Artillery fire and shooting signalled a fresh bout of fighting between northern and southern Sudanese soldiers in the disputed region of Abyei on Wednesday, the first time that the two sides have engaged each other since Khartoum’s invasion of the town last month.
The brief exchange is a worrying escalation and comes as fighting in the neighbouring state of South Kordofan intensifies with the UN warning that more than 60,000 people have now fled the conflict there.
In a situation report the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that aerial bombardments had killed 64 people since fighting started on 05 June.
An unknown number of others have been killed by gunfire which has targeted people according to their ethnicity.
Aid agencies and human rights groups have reported northern Arab militias going house to house to seek out and kill Black southerners in attacks that look increasingly like the kind of ethnic cleansing that has characterised the ongoing conflict in the western region of Darfur.
“There is a growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic faultlines,” said the UNOCHA report.
The spokesman for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said northern fighter jets had dropped 11 bombs on Tuesday apparently targeting an airfield close to the UN base in the town of Kauda.
Kouider Zerrouk said the airstrikes were causing, “huge suffering to the civilian population and endangering humanitarian assistance to the region”.
Following President Obama’s call for a ceasefire UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement urging, “the parties to immediately cease all hostilities and allow unconditional air and ground access to UNMIS and humanitarian agencies”.