At least 19 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack in the disputed Abyei region on the Sudan-South Sudan border, according to UN peacekeepers, although a local official gave a higher toll.
Suspected nomadic Misseriya herders from Sudan attacked the Dinka village of Kolom, about nine kilometres (5.5 miles) northwest of Abyei on Wednesday, the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), said in a statement.
UNISFA said the attack wounded at least 25 others, while three children were reportedly missing and 19 houses were set ablaze.
However, Kuol Alor Kuol, the chief administrator of the Abyei area, told AFP news agency that the number of dead stood at 32.
“Thirty-two people were killed among them children and women, and secondly about 24 people are wounded … and about 15 people including children were abducted and 20 houses burned,” Kuol said.
He said the wounded had been evacuated to a hospital in the town of Agok which is run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Abyei has been contested since South Sudan gained independence in 2011, while there have long been tensions between the South Sudanese Ngok Dinka community and the Misseriya herders who traverse the area looking for grazing.
Footage circulated online showed properties burned to the ground, as well as graphic images of burned bodies and wounded people with blood-stained clothes.
The UNISFA statement said it had received reports that many armed Misseriya and Dinkas were converging in the general area of Kolom.
“UNISFA troops have been deployed in the general area of Kolom to control movements and contain the situation.”
The peacekeeping operation said a similar incident on Monday had left three people dead in the area.
In 2011, the UN Security Council deployed the peacekeeping force to the area after deadly clashes displaced some 100,000 people.
The UNISFA statement said the incident came amid efforts to hold “co-existence conferences” between the two communities and was “very worrisome and a great cause for concern to the mission.”
Sudan’s transitional government condemned the attack and called on the UNISFA to contain the situation and provide protection to civilians in the region.
A decades-long civil war between Sudan’s north and south ended with a 2005 peace deal that allowed for South Sudan to become independent following a referendum in 2011.
The pact also required both sides to work out the final status of Abyei, but it remains unresolved. The region’s majority Ngok Dinka people are believed to be in favour of joining South Sudan.
The Abyei region is rich in oil, one of the reasons both Sudans are reluctant to give it up.