The Sudanese government, based in the northern part of the country, claims southern fighters are responsible for the violence in villages such as Abyei. Southern officials, U.N. officials, witnesses and people who fled counter the government is engaged in a campaign to force people from the oil-rich area and seize it, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The two sides reached a peace agreement in 2005. Under the pact, the sides were to withdraw from the border area once an independent commission determined boundaries. Abyei residents would decide whether to join the north or the south in a 2011 referendum.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejected the commission's report and both sides have forces in the Abyei area, the Post said. In the south, officials accused Bashir of using a street fight to begin a move to drive out the pro-southern population before the referendum.
"There is a real possibility that this will degenerate," said Ted Dagne, Africa specialist for the Congressional Research Service in Washington. "People are afraid of it, including southerners. They know there is no going back if war erupts over Abyei."