NAIROBI, Kenya — Heavy fighting Sunday in a disputed region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan killed at least 32 people, a regional official said.
The civilians died when unknown gunmen attacked two villages in the southern part of the Abyei administrative region, local media reported.
Abyei information minister Bolis Kuoch said 32 people including women and children were killed and 20 others wounded, “but the clashes have now stopped and the situation calmed down.” He initially reported that a U.N. peacekeeper was among those who died.
However, the U.N issued a statement Monday saying that no soldiers from the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei were killed during the incident.
“Contrary to inaccurate information published in media and other reports, no UNISFA peacekeepers were killed or wounded during the incident,” the statement said. "In response to the attacks, UNISFA moved rapidly to enhance security in the affected area by intensifying patrols, closely monitoring the situation and engaging with the relevant communities.”
The U.N also gave a lower death toll, saying 27 people were killed. It called on the transitional government of South Sudan to withdraw its troops from the contested region.
Inter-communal and cross-border clashes have escalated since South Sudan deployed its troops to the contested territory in March. The peacekeeping mission there condemned the troop deployment, saying it would create “untold suffering and humanitarian concerns” for civilians.
International solders were sent to Aleel and Rumameer counties as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force to help quell the growing conflict.
The Security Council last week voted unanimously to renew UNIFSA’s mandate until Nov. 15, 2024.
Earlier this month, the U.N. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Hanna Serwaa Tetteh warned that the “unprecedented” 7-month war between Sudan’s army and a rival paramilitary force was getting closer to South Sudan and the Abyei region.
The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in mid-April, displacing millions of people within Sudan and into neighboring countries.
Sudan and South Sudan have disagreed over control of the oil-rich Abyei region since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after a 2005 peace deal ended decades of civil war between Sudan’s north and south.
The deal called for both sides to settle the final status of Abyei through negotiations, but it has never been implemented.