x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

North Sudanese troops told to attack at will in Abyei

President Omar al Bashir says his troops do not need permission from Khartoum to attack southern forces after Northern tanks and soldiers rolled into the disputed border region of Abyei on Saturday.

JUBA // Sudan's president gave northern troops a "green light" to attack southern forces if provoked, while gunmen from an Arab tribe fired on four UN helicopters taking off from a disputed border town at the heart of a new north-south conflict, officials said yesterday.

Both Sudan's north and south claim Abyei, a fertile region located near several oilfields. Northern tanks and soldiers rolled into the disputed region on Saturday following the attack on a northern army convoy on Thursday, raising fears the dispute could trigger a return to civil war in Africa's largest nation.

President Omar al Bashir said his troops do not need permission from Khartoum to attack southern forces if they feel provoked, the state news agency SUNA said. He accused the United States of double standards because he said it protested loudly over the occupation of Abyei by the north, but less loudly over the preceding attack on northern troops and UN forces.

The US president, Barack Obama, speaking at a news conference in London, called for the rapid reinforcement of UN peacekeeping troops in the Abyei region, from which tens of thousands of civilians have fled over the past week.

Some UN peacekeepers remain in Abyei, although UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang said UN helicopters were fired on as they took off from there late on Tuesday. She said about 14 rounds were fired from positions close to the UN compound. No helicopters were hit.

Southern Sudan voted in January to secede from the north, and it is scheduled to declare independence in July. But the north's occupation of Abyei has greatly strained north-south relations. The two regions fought a two-decade-plus civil war that claimed two million lives.