, KHARTOUM, Mar 31 – A build-up of military weapons in Abyei by forces from both north and south Sudan is raising fears of further violence in the flashpoint border region, the UN mission in Sudan\’s chief commander warned on Wednesday.
"We have evidence that both sides have militarised Abyei," Major General Moses Obi told reporters in Khartoum.
"We have seen all sorts of armed elements that ordinarily are not supposed to be there.
"The weapons they are holding are higher than the scale that we would expect from the police. Some of them are rocket-propelled (grenade) launchers, some of them are multi-barrel rocket launchers, some are machine-guns mounted on wheels.
"Both sides have these weapons, and we think they should abide by their own agreement and get them out of Abyei," added the force commander of UNMIS, which monitors the implementation of a 2006 peace accord between Khartoum and Juba that ended a 22-year civil war.
Fighting and recriminations flared in Abyei earlier this month, with at least 70 people killed in two days of clashes, and amid reports by Western observers of the armies on both sides reinforcing their positions.
The clashes, between the Arab Misseriya nomads, who are supported by Khartoum, and the Ngok Dinka people who back the south, forced tens of thousands to flee.
North and south Sudan have accused each other of sending large numbers of "irregular" soldiers to the disputed region, in breach of a January peace accord, which calls on all forces to withdraw from the area except for special joint units of northern and southern troops alongside UN peacekeepers.
The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum warned two weeks ago of renewed fighting if the southern army did not pull around 2,500 of its troops in police fatigues out of Abyei.
The warning came shortly after the south\’s ruling Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) charged that the Khartoum government was arming Arab tribes all along the north-south border in a policy of attempted genocide.
Tensions have been running high in Abyei since January\’s independence referendum for south Sudan, in which southerners almost unanimously backed secession.
The impoverished region was due to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on its own future, as to whether it joined the north or south, but the vote was postponed indefinitely, with the NCP and the SPLM at loggerheads over who should be eligible to vote.
Obi warned that, with the northern and southern armies deploying extra troops near the volatile region, and in the absence of a political solution, the situation in Abyei could quickly deteriorate.
"Both sides have their formations not too far from Abyei. They are all within their rights to deploy. But if the Abyei situation is not addressed, those deployments are near enough to influence Abyei at short notice," he said.
"(Since early January) there have been deaths, there have been displacements. And if the stalemate continues politically, the risk of confrontation remains and could escalate."
Abyei\’s future is the most sensitive of a raft of issues that the governments of north and south Sudan have been trying to resolve ahead of southern independence in July, which include borders, citizenship, security and debt.
Senior northern and southern officials are due to meet in Addis Ababa on Saturday for the latest round of talks on how to manage Sudan\’s security arrangements post-July.