JUBA, Sudan — Clashes in recent days between Arab nomads and tribesmen have left at least 30 people dead and raised fears Monday that the independence referendum in southern Sudan could lead to widespread violence in the disputed, oil-rich region of Abyei.
Straddling the volatile area where northern and southern Sudan meet, Abyei is a dangerous mix of heavily-armed Arab cattle herders loyal to the northern government of President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and Dinka Ngok tribesman aligned with the southern leadership.
The south and the northern-led government in Khartoum have long accused one another of manipulating Abyei's clans as proxies in a larger struggle over control of grazing lands, water and oil. A separate referendum this week on whether Abyei would join north or south was delayed over unresolved political issues and fears of renewed bloodshed.
"We will not accept Abyei to be part of the south," Bashir told Al-Jazeera television over the weekend. "If any party takes independent action over Abyei, that would be the beginning of a conflict."
Members of the Misseriya, a nomadic tribe linked to the north, said they were ambushed while grazing their cattle. But southern Sudanese officials say Arab nomads supported by a Khartoum-backed militia battled Dinka tribesmen and attacked southern police forces near the border. Reports range from 30 to 36 dead.