Dozens of people have been killed in an outbreak of inter-communal violence in a disputed oil region in South Sudan, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a local official said Wednesday.
According to Ocha, fighting in the oil-rich border region of Abyei, disputed between Sudan and South Sudan, has left 36 people dead as of March 6, an unknown number injured and 50,000 displaced.
"Inter-communal tensions have increased in recent weeks in the Abyei Administrative Area (AAA), allegedly motivated by long-standing territorial disputes, inter-tribal tensions and the desire for revenge," writes Ocha.
Fighting in the area, which began on February 10, intensified in early March, according to Ocha, which added that humanitarian operations in areas affected by the fighting have been suspended and aid workers have been relocated to safe areas.
Abyei, caught between Sudan and fledgling South Sudan, has been a flashpoint between the two countries since the South gained independence in July 2011. South Sudan separated from its northern neighbor in 2011 following a peace treaty that ended a 22-year civil war.
The region has also long experienced tensions between the Ngok Dinka community and Misseriya pastoralists who cross the area in search of grazing land.
AAA spokesman Ajak Deng said two deadly attacks were carried out over the weekend by Misseriya herders and members of the Sudanese Armed Forces equipped with heavy weapons.
He added that six people were killed on Saturday and 27 on Sunday, adding that the situation remains tense and residents are still living in fear.
The U.S. embassies in Juba and Khartoum issued a statement expressing their "grave concern" over the escalating violence in the region. "We call on all parties to cease retaliation and resume dialogue," the statement said.
Abyei has been under U.N. protection since South Sudan's independence. The United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) deployed there has also called for an end to the violence.