, KHARTOUM, May 11 – Unidentified attackers shot and wounded four Zambian peacekeepers in Sudan\’s disputed Abyei district, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said on Tuesday.
The Zambians were on patrol in the Goli area, around 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Abyei town, when they came under fire, UNMIS spokeswoman Hua Jiang told AFP.
"Four of them were wounded, with one of them in a serious condition, and they were evacuated to Abyei for medical treatment," she said.
"We strongly condemn this unprovoked attack and we have commenced an investigation into the incident. I don\’t think it will affect our determination to implement our mandate," she added.
Tuesday\’s attack came two days after northern and southern leaders agreed to start withdrawing unauthorised troops from the flashpoint district on the north-south border where scores of people have been killed in recent months.
The two sides agreed that the pullout would begin from Tuesday and be completed within a week, UNMIS said on Sunday.
A peace accord signed by the two sides in January called on all forces to pull out of Abyei except special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of northern and southern personnel, both army and police, alongside UN peacekeepers.
But the United Nations and Western observers say the two armies have been reinforcing their positions in and around Abyei in recent months.
The south is due to receive international recognition as an independent state on July 9 and the draft constitution that the southern cabinet ratified on Friday explicitly locates Abyei within its territory.
Khartoum says the district is an integral part of the north and President Omar al-Bashir has said his government may not recognise the independence of the south if it insists on claiming Abyei unilaterally.
The district\’s future status is the most sensitive of a raft of issues that north and south are struggling to agree ahead of southern independence.
Escalating tensions on the ground and a mounting war of words between northern and southern leaders over Abyei have endangered Sudan\’s fragile peace and made a velvet divorce less likely, the International Crisis Group warned on Sunday.
"Further escalation and additional tit-for-tat deployments risk pushing Abyei beyond the tipping point, endangering lives and the fragile peace in Sudan," the Brussels-based think-tank added.
Just a week ago, 14 people were killed at a security checkpoint 17 kilometres (10 miles) north of Abyei town when fighting broke out between southern police forces and northern elements of the special joint units.