28 February 2011
Last updated at 06:32 ET
At least 10 people have been killed in fighting between rival ethnic groups in Sudan’s disputed oil-rich region of Abyei, officials say
The clashes between Arab nomads and the southern Dinka Ngok people are the first since a deal between the two sides was agreed last month.
Abyei lies on the border between north and south Sudan.
The region did not take part in last month’s referendum in which southerners voted to split from the north.
Abyei is due to vote on whether to join the north or south at a later, unspecified date.
The Dinka Ngok think it belongs in the south, while the nomadic Arab Misseriya see it as northern.
The heart of their dispute is about grazing rights for cattle, which are central to both communities’ traditions and economies.
Both sides accused each other of starting the recent clashes.
Deng Arop Kuol, the chief administrator for Abyei from the Dinka Ngok community, told Reuters news agency a Misseriya group had attacked a settlement in the early hours of Sunday morning.
But senior Misseriya official Saddig Babo Nimr told the agency the southern army had started the fighting by attacking a nomadic camp.
Officials have warned the death toll could rise.
“There is still fighting going on. The situation is very bad, and we cannot stop to count the dead,” Mr Kuol told AFP news agency.
UN troops in Abyei have been boosted over the last few months because of the tensions.
North and south Sudan have suffered decades of conflicts driven by religious and ethnic divides, with an estimated 1.5 million people killed in the civil war.
The referendum on southern secession was agreed as part of the 2005 deal to end the 21-year civil war.
Sudan: A country divided
The great divide across Sudan is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. Southern Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Sudan’s arid northern regions are home mainly to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in Southern Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own traditional beliefs and languages.
The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In Southern Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.
The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.
Throughout Sudan, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.
Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in Sudan. The residents of war-affected Darfur and Southern Sudan are still greatly dependent on food aid. Far more than in northern states, which tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.
Sudan exports billions of dollars of oil per year. Southern states produce more than 80% of it, but receive only 50% of the revenue, exacerbating tensions with the north. The oil-rich border region of Abyei is to hold a separate vote on whether to join the north or the south.