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Sudan army claims SPLA launched deadly attack in Abyei

May 19, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese army accused the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of attacking its troops in the North-South border region of Abyei leading to heavy military casualties within its ranks.

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Personnel from the northern army’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) component of the Joint Integrated Units (JIU) celebrate on the barge as they prepare to leave for northern Sudan, in Juba in this picture taken April 7, 2011 and released by UNMIS April 12, 2011 (Reuters)

In a statement issued late Thursday, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) said that the SPLA ambushed its troops that were part of the Joint Integrated Units (JIU) who were being escorted by peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

SAF spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad who read the statement on Sudan TV said the attack took place when their forces were withdrawing from Abyei towards Goli in the north of the area. He said that pulling SAF units was a decision they took in consultation with UNMIS leadership to prevent "friction" with surrounding SPLA units.

According to the statement, Sudanese troops were on their way out of the disputed region boarding UN vehicles and accompanied by peacekeepers when they came under fire from the Southern army around seven kilometers from Abyei. The SPLA allegedly used heavy weaponry leading to "significant losses" that are still being determined with a number of soldiers remaining missing.

SAF said that this attack "is a clear aggression and a violation of the [2005] Comprehensive Peace Agreement by the SPLA against the armed forces and the United Nation. It added that UN observers testified to this incident.

"The armed forces declare that it reserves its full right to respond to this aggression in the right time and place".

An UNMIS spokesperson confirmed the attack to Reuters but said that the identity of the assailants could not be determined. He added that peacekeepers had escorted two companies of the Sudanese army as part of an agreement between north and south to withdraw all unauthorized forces from both sides beyond a joint force.

The North and South signed a security accord in the South Kordofan capital city of Kadugli last January to withdraw from Abyei except the special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of Northern and Southern personnel, both army and police, alongside UN peacekeepers.

Deadly fighting and recriminations have flared since January, when the region had been due to vote on whether to join the North or the South, alongside a referendum in the south that delivered a landslide for secession.

But the vote in Abyei was called off when the North and South failed to agree on the criteria that would determine the eligibility of voters.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is scheduled to start a visit to Sudan on Saturday that would include a stop in South Kordofan and Abyei.

The plan has been marred with a row between the UNSC and Sudan on whether the delegation would meet with South Kordofan governor Ahmed Haroun who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in connection with alleged war crimes he committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur while he was the state minister for interior.

Haroun was declared a winner this month in the elections for governor in the state that were described by the Carter Center as “generally peaceful and credible". The SPLM has said that it will not recognize the results accusing the National Congress Party (NCP) of rigging the vote.

The UN Secretary General spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters today in New York that the UNSC does not plan on meeting Haroun.