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updated 6/15/2011 6:45:56 PM ET 2011-06-15T22:45:56

A U.N. humanitarian report and aid workers caught in the crossfire reported on Wednesday an increase in violence in a new front near the already tense internal border between north and south Sudan, with dozens of people reported killed in attacks.

The violence in South Kordofan has killed at least 25 people, a U.N. humanitarian report said, though it said local sources indicated that up to 64 people had been killed. The north also bombed an airstrip, preventing the movement of food aid and humanitarian workers.

Fighting also broke out Wednesday in Abyei, another hot-button border region that the northern military invaded in May. A southern military spokesman said Wednesday's clash resulted in casualties but that he didn't have exact figures.

The increased violence comes less than a month before Southern Sudan will declare independence from the north on July 9, the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed some 2 million people.

Image: A huge explosion near a United Nations compound in South Kordofan state
AP
A huge explosion near a United Nations compound in South Kordofan state, Sudan, on June 14.

But the sudden outbreak in violence on multiple fronts has greatly increased fears of renewed war, with some aid workers in the south indicating the northern government of Khartoum may be moving toward wider conflict.

The violence prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to issue a new warning to Sudan's leaders. He singled out the Khartoum government, saying it "must prevent a further escalation of this crisis by ceasing its military actions immediately, including aerial bombardments, forced displacements and campaigns of intimidation."

Obama said that if Sudan's leaders choose peace, the U.S. will take steps to normalize U.S.-Sudan relations, but that Khartoum will face more pressure and isolation if leaders there "flout their international obligations."

MiG fighter jets made multiple bombing runs over South Kordofan on Tuesday, according to accounts from international officials in the region. Vivid pictures showed a bomb exploding on an airstrip next to a U.N. compound in Kauda, a town in northern Sudan whose residents strongly support the south.

A U.N. spokeswoman, Hua Jiang, said 11 bombs were dropped in South Kordofan, five of which exploded. Two people were slightly wounded after the airstrip bombing, she said. Fighting was also heavy in the state capital, Kadugli, where violence broke out the first week of June.

"There have been some artillery shellings and small arms firing near Kadugli town and certainly the fighting since is moving closer to our headquarters in Kadugli," she said.

Displaced by violence
South Kordofan is part of northern Sudan, but many of the inhabitants there, the Nuba Mountain people, are black Africans who support the Christian and animist south against the Arab and Muslim-dominated north.

Jiang said 60,000 residents have been displaced by the violence, and that the U.N. is providing food and water to about 40,000 of them. However, the U.N. has been unable to fly in supplies for days. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR accused Sudan on Tuesday of blocking aid deliveries in South Kordofan by air and road. Jiang said Wednesday that a road was opened to the U.N. on Tuesday.

Image: People flee fighting in Southern Kordofan
Paul Banks  /  UNMIS via EPA
Displaced people gathering to get water from a U.N. tank after fleeing fighting in Kadugli town, south Kordofan state, on June 9.

The U.N. humanitarian report said that it appeared that southern troops were heading north toward Kadugli, feeding a "growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines. Reports of sectarian violence against civilians targeting members of the different ethnic groups as well as wide spread looting of property are inhibiting returns to villages and towns of origin, even after the fighting has ceased."

An aid worker in South Kordofan who could not be identified because of security concerns said that four MiG jets and another large plane carried out multiple strikes on Tuesday, destroying the airfield at Kauda. The aid worker said it appeared it would be impossible for any planes to land at the field, meaning no supplies can be flown in and no aid workers moved in or out.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts who has written extensively on Sudan, called the strikes "indisputable evidence of an attack on humanitarian efforts." He noted that the southern military and Nuba people have no military aircraft.

The aid worker's message said that people are "desperate."

"Individual(s) who contacted me said that what is direly needed is a no-fly zone. Really fear that these attacks are just the beginning of a long-term war that the (northern government) is going to carry out against South Kordofan the same way it has in Darfur over the past eight years," the aid worker wrote.

Flashpoint
Meanwhile, in Abyei, troops from the north and south clashed. Casualties were reported after the clash near what southerners call the Kiir River, but southern spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said he didn't immediately have an exact casualty toll.

Abyei — a fertile land near oil fields — is the major flashpoint between the north and the south. The situation spiraled out of control in May when the north invaded. Despite international calls for a withdrawal, northern troops remain in the region.

Aguer said the northern troops tried to cross the river on Wednesday. The U.N. spokeswoman said there were conflicting reports indicating that either northern troops or southern troops tried to cross.

Even as the violence intensified, northern and southern officials continued to meet in Ethiopia in hopes of finding peace.

A Southern Sudanese minister said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's troops should unconditionally withdraw from Abyei and allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission with a full mandate to defend themselves and civilians to move in.

Deng Alor Kuol, the minister for regional cooperation for Southern Sudan, said the African Union talks are focusing on empowering an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission for Abyei. South Sudan wants a full mandate for the Ethiopians allowing them to take military action.

A cease-fire in South Kordofan seems far away. Deng said there are political issues to be addressed first with Abdul Aziz Al Hilu, the leading pro-southern political figure in South Kordofan, before any agreement that would be "effective" and accepted on the ground.

___

Associated Press reporters Luc van Kemenade in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Maggie Fick in Seattle, Wash., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: Independence of South Sudan

  • Image: A supporter of independence for southern Sudan
    Goran Tomasevic  /  Reuters
    A supporter of the referendum on southern Sudan's independence adjusts a banner on top of a car during a rally in Juba on Jan. 5. The referendum, guaranteed by a 2005 peace deal between north and south resulted in secession.

    The Republic of South Sudan will be founded on Saturday, July 9, the climax of an internationally brokered peace process that ended decades of civil war between north and south Sudan.

    The republic will become the 196th country in the world, the 193rd member of the United Nations, and the 55th country in Africa, according to the southern government.

    It will open 34 embassies and consulates worldwide and may establish more than 50 over time, officials say.

    Here are some facts about South Sudan and its steps to statehood:

    (Source: Msnbc.com research, The Associated Press and Reuters)

  • Peace deal

    Image: Southern Sudanese citizens
    Str  /  Reuters
    Southern Sudanese citizens chant slogans and hold placards as they march in the streets in support of the independence referendum in Juba.

    Northern and southern Sudan have fought for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005, over ethnicity, religion, ideology and oil. The war claimed 2 million lives and destabilized much of the region.

    A 2005 peace deal guaranteed a referendum six years later, when southerners would choose whether to stay part of Sudan or break off and form their own nation. In January, more than 98 percent of southerners voted to secede.

    The peace agreement expires July 9, the day the new nation will declare its independence.

    Sudan's government has warned 10,000 UN peacekeepers deployed to the region to leave on that day.

  • Independence Day

    Image: South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Sudan
    GORAN TOMASEVIC  /  Reuters
    South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir review an honor guard at the airport in Juba in January.

    An independence ceremony will be held at the Garang Memorial site in the capital Juba, where former southern leader and rebel hero John Garang, who signed the peace deal with northern President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, is interred.

    • The Independence Day celebrations will include raising the new South Sudan flag and singing the new national anthem, which is being taught to southerners in Juba.
    • The southern government says more than 30 heads of state from Africa and around the world will attend. Bashir has been invited, according to southern officials. A confirmed list of attendees is not yet available.
    • Thousands are expected to take to the streets of the new capital, and similar celebrations will be held in all the south's 10 states.
    • Southern President Salva Kiir will be sworn in during celebrations for a four-year term. The Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly will be reconstituted by the president as the National Legislative Assembly.
    • A new "transitional constitution" will come into effect July 9, subject to final approval by the parliament. A number of cosmetic changes have been made to the current charter, such as removing references to a unity government. A series a new powers have also been granted to the president.
  • Sudan

    Image: Burning homes in Abyei, central Sudan
    Stuart Price  /  UNMIS via EPA
    A photograph released by the United Nations shows home burning in Abyei, central Sudan, after a May 21-22 attack by northern Sudanese forces.

    Facts include:

    People: Sudan has a population of about 44 million. The north is mostly Muslim, while the south is populated by black Africans who are mostly Christian and animist. Dozens of languages and dialects are spoken. Northerners mostly speak Arabic, but the official language of South Sudan will be English.

    Land: Sudan is Africa's largest country geographically, about one-quarter the size of the United States. South Sudan alone is roughly the size of Texas. Many of Sudan's neighbors are volatile countries; along its borders are Libya, Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Sudan's long, porous borders are easily crossed by rebel groups.

    Economy: Sudan is one of Africa's largest oil exporters, and the sale of crude is its chief foreign exchange earner. The oil fields are mostly in the south but the pipelines to take them to the Red Sea run through northern territory. Agriculture employs 80 percent of the work force; Sudan exports products like cotton, grains, livestock and fruit.

    History:  A rebellion first began in the south in 1955, the year before Sudan gained independence after joint British-Egyptian control. Fighting lasted until a 1972 peace agreement, which failed to resolve the fundamental issues.

    Fighting resumed in the early 1980s, and about 2 million people died over the next two decades. The 2005 peace agreement granted the south autonomy for six years, at the end of which a referendum on independence was held.

    Rebels in the western region of Darfur province and in the northeast also have rebelled against Sudan's Khartoum-based government, accusing it of concentrating wealth in the hands of a politically privileged Islamist elite and ignoring development in outlying regions. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003 and 2.7 million have been forced from their homes because of the conflict

  • South Sudan

    Capital: Juba

    Head of state: Salva Kiir

    Population: 8.26 million

    Religion: Mostly Christian and traditional beliefs

    Economy: Oil accounted for about 98 percent of the south's total revenue in 2010. About three-quarters of Sudan's roughly 500,000 barrels per day of oil output comes from the south, but the pipelines all pass through the north, which has the country's only refineries and sea port.

    Oil is the lifeblood of both northern and southern economies. The current arrangement, which splits revenues from southern oil about 50-50, expires when the south declares independence.

    Poverty, people
    Despite being endowed with oil, up to 90 percent of the southern population lives below the poverty line, surviving on just a half a dollar a day.

    Southern Sudan has the highest infant-mortality rates and the lowest education indicators in the world. One child in 10 dies before its first birthday and fewer than 1 percent of girls complete primary education.

    World assistance
    In May, the European Union allocated 200 million euros for southern Sudan to support the government's forthcoming 2011-13 development plan. Since 2005, the EU has committed development assistance of over 665 million euros to Sudan, with more than 45 percent dedicated to the south.

    In 2009, Sudan received $2.4 billion in official development assistance from donors.

  • Sudan (north)

    Capital: Khartoum

    Head of State: Omar Hassan al-Bashir

    Population: 31 million (without the south)

    Religion: Mostly Muslim

    Economy: Oil revenues for the united country accounted for more than 50 percent of domestic revenue and more than 90 percent of exports in 2009.

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