- Associated Press - Monday, January 10, 2011

JUBA, Sudan | Violence in the disputed region of Abyei has killed at least 30 people along Sudan’s north-south divide, officials said Monday. Observers fear the latest unrest could spark more fighting amid an otherwise peaceful and jubilant independence referendum in the south.

Abyei remains the most contentious sticking point between north and south following a two-decade civil war that left 2 million dead. Even President Obama, who applauded this week’s historic referendum on independence in the south, warned that violence in the Abyei region should cease.

Abyei, which holds oil deposits, had been promised its own self-determination vote, but now whether it remains part of Sudan or joins an independent south will be decided in negotiations that so far have made little progress.

Jubilant voters flooded polling stations for a second day on Monday. The seven days of balloting are likely to produce an overwhelming vote for independence, and Sudanese President Omar Bashir has said he will let the oil-rich south secede peacefully.

Meanwhile, conflicting accounts emerged Monday concerning the latest violence in the region straddling the north-south divide, and both sides accused armed forces of being in Abyei in violation of the peace agreement that ended the 1983-2005 civil war.

Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for southern Sudan’s military, said Arabs from the Misseriya tribes and fighters from a former Khartoum-backed militia killed 20 police and wounded 30 more during an attack with anti-tank weapons and artillery in the village of Maker-Adhar on Sunday.

The Misseriya, a nomadic cattle-herding tribe, sometimes cross into Abyei with cattle. Col. Aguer, though, said he thinks the attack was planned. “They were not with cattle, they were coming for [an] attack,” he said.

Bashtal Mohammed Salem, a tribal leader, meanwhile accused police of killing 10 herders in about the same general area. He also said that southern security forces have increased their presence in Abyei in violation of the agreement.

“They want to keep us out of the area and declare independence unilaterally,” he said.

Col. Aguer said the Misseriya were accompanied by uniformed men known as the Popular Defense Forces, a former militia that has been integrated into Sudan’s military. There was no immediate comment from the Khartoum-based government on the allegations.

A U.N. official said the southern government has asked for help in evacuating the wounded police. The official was not allowed to be identified because the information hadn’t been made public.

Meetings on Wednesday are to include the interior ministers of the south and north to regulate the presence of police in the area.

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