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South Sudan Army Reports Clashes Yesterday in Abyei Region

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Five Sudanese government troops were killed during a clash with Southern Sudan’s forces in the disputed border region of Abyei yesterday, the south’s army spokesman, Philip Aguer, said.

Seven southern soldiers were wounded in the fighting along the Kiir River, which is known as Bahr al-Arab in northern Sudan, Aguer said today by phone from Juba, the regional capital. Sudan’s army spokesman, Al-Sawarmi Khaled, said his forces weren’t involved.

The river has formed a barrier between the two armies since President Umar al-Bashir’s Sudan Armed Forces occupied Abyei on May 21 after accusing southern soldiers of attacking them.

The United Nations Security Council urged the northern army to withdraw on concern the action could reignite the two-decade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer that ended in 2005. Southern Sudan is due to become an independent nation on July 9.

Aguer said the clashes in Abyei started when government soldiers crossed the river, which marks the historic frontier between the north and south.

“They crossed and patrolled on the south side of the river,” Aguer said.

Khaled said his troops hadn’t crossed the river.

“We are not fighting south of Bahr al-Arab,” he told reporters in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

A referendum in Abyei scheduled for January on whether to join the south or remain a special administrative region in the north was canceled because of disagreements over who was eligible to vote.

Abyei is contested between the region’s Ngok Dinka people, who are settled in the area and consider themselves southerners, and Misseriya nomads who herd their cattle south in the dry season and are supported by the government in Khartoum.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matt Richmond in Kampala, Uganda at mrichmond10@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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