Abyei violence may derail Sudan peace:rights expert
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A surge of violence in Sudan's contested Abyei border region could derail the country's north-south peace process, a U.N.-appointed human rights expert said on Monday.
Mohamed Chande Othman, appointed by the U.N. human rights council to review Sudan in 2009, said there had been five major clashes in Abyei since the south Sudanese voted to declare independence from the north in a referendum in January.
Both north and south claim the oil-producing territory, where northern Misseriya nomads have clashed with southern armed police and the south-linked Dinka Ngok people.
"Abyei still remains a flashpoint which could potentially derail the entire peace process," he said in the statement at the end of his second visit to Sudan since being appointed.
Abyei's ownership was left undecided in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war, a conflict that killed an estimated two million people.
Any resumption of fighting could spark another humanitarian catastrophe, disrupt oil flows and destabilise the whole fractured region.
Chande said there had also been at least 16 clashes in southern Sudan since the referendum.
"I am concerned about the increasing loss of lives, and displacements of civilians caused by criminality, cattle rustling, inter-communal violence, and fighting between the SPLA (southern army) and militia groups," he said.
More than 42 fighters were killed in the latest clashes in the capital of south Sudan's Upper Nile State on Saturday, the SPLA said.
Chande also said Khartoum continued to hold a number of opposition leaders, students and activists without charge.
Sudan has cracked down on a series of anti-government demonstrations in the north that, while inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, have failed to attract widespread support.
The judge said fighting between government forces and Darfur rebels had intensified since December.
Chande said he had visited refugees in the mostly desert territory.
"Their situation is deplorable, to say the least," he said. "I am concerned that without immediate humanitarian assistance the situation of these people, many of whom have been displaced for a second or third time, could reach catastrophic levels."