Four United Nations peacekeepers were injured in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the disputed region of Abyei on the border of north and Southern Sudan, the UN said.
The Zambian nationals were shot while on patrol in the northern part of the region, UN Mission in Sudan spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said today from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. One of the peacekeepers is in a serious condition and all four have been evacuated to the hospital in the city, he said.
Abyei is contested by northern and oil-rich Southern Sudan, which is set to become independent on July 9. The future of Abyei is the most contentious of the remaining issues to be negotiated before the separation. Abyei’s residents were scheduled to vote in January on whether to join an independent south or remain with the north. The vote was cancelled because of disagreements over who was eligible to take part.
The Ngok Dinka people, who are loyal to Southern Sudan, said they alone should be allowed to vote in the region’s referendum. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a 2009 ruling, set Abyei’s borders to the area around Ngok Dinka settlements, largely excluding the pro-northern Misseriya ethnic group.
In its ruling, the court set key oil fields, including Heglig and Bamboo, outside of the Abyei region. Those fields and Diffra in Abyei are run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., which is 40 percent owned by Beijing-based China National Petroleum Corp.
The UN has about 900 peacekeepers patrolling the Abyei region and its mission will continue even after the attack, Zerrouk said.