* AU had given sides six weeks to resolve dispute
* Abyei is still a hotly contested region
KHARTOUM, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Sudan has warned a new conflict could break out in Abyei, a contested area between Sudan and South Sudan prized for its fertile grazing land, if a regional body refers the dispute to the U.N. Security Council.
The two countries signed African Union-brokered deals in September to withdraw troops from their shared border and take other steps to ease tensions.
But they failed to find a solution for Abyei, and the AU gave the two sides six weeks in October to find a solution or it would endorse a binding referendum on the region’s future.
The AU also said it would seek the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council to settle the dispute between Sudan and South Sudan, which split apart in July last year under the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti said bringing the Abyei dispute to the United Nations would complicate matters and could lead to a “new conflict” in the region, state news agency SUNA reported late on Wednesday.
“The foreign minister reaffirmed Sudan’s desire that the dispute around Abyei and the border remains in the African context,” the report said.
Sudan would not accept that “any party impose a solution that does not meet the interests of the nation and its people,” it added.
The time limit set by the AU has passed but the issue remains unresolved. Previous efforts to set up a referendum for Abyei collapsed because the two sides failed to agree on who should be allowed to vote.
Most of the region’s permanent settlements are occupied by Ngok Dinka, part of South Sudan’s largest tribe. Arab Misseriya - a group that provided proxy militias for Khartoum during the war - also use Abyei for several months as year.
A staff member of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Abyei (UNISFA) was shot dead when a demonstration in the region turned violent last month.