Northern Sudanese forces seized control of the main town in the contested, oil-rich region of Abyei amid rising tensions with the South. The North's offensive comes ahead of the South's planned secession in July.
Southern Sudan voted for independence last January
Northern Sudanese forces seized control of the main town in the oil-rich, politically disputed border region of Abyei on Saturday amid rising tensions ahead of southern secession in July.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) conducted bombing raids and launched a ground offensive, expelling "enemy forces" to the south, according to state television based in the northern capital, Khartoum.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the secessionist South's main military force, confirmed that Abyei town had fallen to the northern offensive.
"Abyei town is now under control of the SAF," said SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer. "They came with tanks."
Aguer went on to say that northern aircraft also bombed at least four villages.
Southern Sudan voted in January to secede from the North. The South practices predominantly Christianity and traditional beliefs while the North is mainly Muslim.
The South's vote for independence was part of a peace deal signed by both sides in 2005 that ended decades of war which killed an estimated 2 million people.
Residents in Abyei were supposed to vote in January on whether they would join the North or the South. However, the referendum fell through amid disputes over who could vote in the ballot.
The United States condemned Northern Sudan's offensive and called on Khartoum to cease offensive operations and withdraw its forces from Abyei.
"Failure to do so could set back the process of normalizing relations between Sudan and the United States and inhibit the international community's ability to move forward on issues critical to Sudan's future," the White House said in a statement.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) urged the two sides to cease hostilities and begin talks.
"We strongly encourage all parties to resume dialogue towards reaching a lasting political settlement," UNMIS said in a statement
Author: Spencer Kimball (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Andrew Bowen