UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (UPI) -- Disputes between ethnic groups in the Sudanese border region of Abyei could escalate to full-scale conflict, U.N. genocide officials said.
The ethnic Ngok Dinka group is at odds with the herding community of Misseriya Arabs over control of Abyei, an oil-rich area along the de facto border between the north and South Sudan.
The tribal group claims the region belongs to the south while Misseriya nomads pledge allegiance to the north.
A protocol concerning Abyei in a 2005 peace agreement that ended the civil war in Sudan describes the Ngok Dinka as dual citizens for an interim period. Abyei was to vote in the January referendum for South Sudan's secession, though the vote was postponed because of disputes over who has the right to vote.
Francis Deng and Edward Luck, U.N. special envoys on the prevention of genocide, said in a statement that so long as Khartoum backs the nomadic herders and Juba backs the tribal community, animosity "could easily trigger further ethnic-based violence in Abyei."
Clashes between the groups have left more than 100 people dead and displaced at least 20,000 people, the United Nations said.