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N. Sudan invades disputed town

New York Times

NAIROBI, Kenya - The Sudanese army invaded the flash-point border town of Abyei over the weekend, alarming Western and U.N. diplomats who warned Sunday that it was a provocative act that risked all-out war with the southern Sudanese.

The unresolved status of Abyei, an ethnically mixed, oil-producing area that straddles northern and southern Sudan and is claimed by both sides, has been the thorniest issue confronting Sudan as it prepares to break into two in July. Southern Sudanese fought for independence for decades, and in January, they voted by nearly 99 percent in an internationally backed referendum to split off from northern Sudan.

After an air campaign on Friday, northern ground forces staged a full-scale invasion of Abyei on Saturday night, with thousands of soldiers, booming artillery and tanks sweeping in from several directions.

Southern Sudan called the invasion "a declaration of war."

"We will respond in self-defense," warned Benjamin Marial, information minister for the south's semi-autonomous government.

Delegates from the U.N. Security Council were in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, on Sunday on a previously planned trip. But early signs were not encouraging for a quick diplomatic solution. According to a Western official in Khartoum, Ali Osman Taha, one of Sudan's vice presidents and considered the No. 2 in northern Sudan after President Omar Hassan Bashir, stood up the delegates from the Security Council.

Abyei was supposed to have a referendum to decide whether it would join the north or the south but that got shelved in December because of heated arguments over who was eligible to vote.