(Updates with AU statement starting in fifth paragraph.)
June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Northern Sudanese authorities closed the main airport in Southern Kordofan state as fighting between the northern and Southern Sudanese armies in the border region entered its seventh day, the United Nations said.
The clashes, which broke out on June 5 in northern Sudan’s only oil-producing state, have caused an “unverifiable number of casualties,” UN spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said today by phone from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. “Localized fighting with sporadic artillery fire and continuing military build-up were reported during the last 24 hours in the state.”
The remaining residents of the state capital, Kadugli, are fleeing the town, Zerrouk said. As many as 40,000 of the estimated 60,000 population of the city had left their homes as of June 9, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday.
Clashes along the border have raised concern about a resumption of the two-decade civil war that ended with a 2005 peace agreement between the north and the south. While the two sides are still negotiating the border, President Umar al- Bashir’s forces occupied the disputed region of Abyei on May 21 and stepped up their attacks on what it describes as rebels in Southern Kordofan.
Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir, the president of Southern Sudan, which is scheduled to become an independent country on July 9, will meet June 12-13 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss issues including the withdrawal of the northern Sudanese Armed Forces from Abyei, the African Union said today.
The two sides will discuss the deployment of “an African- led international mission” in the disputed region of Abyei, the AU said in an e-mailed statement. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the head of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will attend the meeting, the statement said.
Representatives from the Sudanese government, which the UN says is strengthening its control over the state, and Southern Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, will also meet in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to end the fighting in Southern Kordofan, the AU said.
The closure of the Kadugli airport by the northern Sudanese army “will dangerously hamper the UN humanitarian operations in Southern Kordofan,” where the people displaced by the fighting “are in urgent need of emergency assistance,” Zerrouk said, urging authorities to allow “unconditional use” of the airport by UN flights.
Sudanese army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled’s phone was switched off when he was contacted for comment.
Northern Sudanese Armed Forces and northern-allied militias were engaged in “widespread abuses” in Southern Kordofan, as they “carried out house-to-house searches and set up checkpoints, where they stopped civilians trying to flee the violence and killed some of them,” Human Rights Watch said today, citing witnesses.
The forces were targeting civilians suspected of being members of Southern Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the rights group said.
Southern Kordofan borders the oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile in Southern Sudan, which will assume control of about 75 percent of Sudan’s daily oil production of 490,000 barrels of oil at independence. The crude is pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp.
The state pumps about 115,000 barrels per day, according to Sudan’s minister of state for oil, Ali Ahmed Osman.
--Editors: Philip Sanders, Andrew J. Barden
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