Ban: “Deeply Concerned” Over Escalating Sudan Violence

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 6:40 pm (UTC-5)
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is “deeply concerned” about the escalating violence between troops from northern and southern Sudan as the south prepares to declare independence next month.

In a statement by his spokesman Wednesday, Mr. Ban called for an end to hostilities in Southern Kordofan state where fighting in the last ten days has displaced 60,000 people. He urged both sides to allow the U.N. unfettered access to ensure the safety of its staff and bring assistance to the local population.

In a separate statement, a top U.N. humanitarian official said aid agencies were being severely hampered in their efforts to bring help to those in need. She also called on both sides to refrain from targeting civilians.

Officials say a joint U.N.-African Union mission will head to Sudan's Southern Kordofan state Thursday in an effort to bring a halt to the heavy fighting there.

Meanwhile, a southern army spokesman, Philip Aguer, says northern and southern troops exchanged fire Wednesday on the Bahr al-Arab River, also known as the Kiir River, when northern troops tried to cross a bridge.

Aguer said there were casualties but did not say whether anyone was killed.

There was no immediate comment from north Sudan officials. The AP newswire quotes a U.N. spokeswoman saying there are conflicting reports over which side was trying to cross the bridge.

The renewed violence comes as the AU is hosting talks in Addis Ababa to try mediate between the north and south.

The AU said Monday the sides had agreed in principle to demilitarize Abyei, which the north occupied last month. But VOA's Peter Heinlein, who is present at the talks, reports that deal appears to be unraveling.

Heinlein reports the mission to Southern Kordofan will be led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who heads a high-level AU panel on Sudan, and the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Sudan, Haile Menkerios.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the north Sudanese government to stop what he called its “campaign of intimidation” along the north-south border.

In an audio message aired by VOA late Tuesday, Mr. Obama said the leaders of both north and south Sudan must live up to their responsibilities and agree to end the violence.

If they flout their obligations, Mr. Obama said they will face international pressure and isolation and will be held accountable for their actions.

Both north and south Sudan claim ownership of Abyei. The dispute there and in Southern Kordofan has raised fears of a renewed war in Sudan as the south prepares to declare independence July 9.

North and south Sudan fought a 21-year that ended with a 2005 peace deal. The south voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a referendum in January.