Abyei has been rocked by a spate of violence in recent months [EPA]

At least four Ethiopian UN peacekeepers have been killed by a landmine in Sudan's disputed Abyei region, a UN spokesman has said.

The deaths on Tuesday were the first to be suffered by the new UN force in the territory.

Martin Nesirky, the UN spokesman, said Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, deplored the attack in the region, which witnessed clashes between South Sudan troops and those from the north in May.

"The Secretary-General is saddened by the death of four peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei who were killed by a landmine detonation during a patrol in Mabok, southeast of Abyei town," Nesirky said.

Seven other peacekeepers were wounded in the explosion, he said.

The UN Security Council in June authorised the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to the Abyei region for six months.

North and South Sudan both hope to include Abyei in their territory.

South Sudan seceded from the north to form a new nation on July 9 in line with the results of a January referendum held as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the north and south.

Khartoum and Juba have yet to agree on who will control Abyei, stirring fears that the long-running quarrel over the region could imperil the secession and spark a broader conflict.

Source: Agencies