KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Scores of people were killed when 3,000 armed Arab tribesmen on horseback attacked security forces in Sudan’s oil-producing Southern Kordofan region on Tuesday, tribal sources and officials said.
Sudan’s Interior Ministry said the security forces were attacked close to the town of Meiram soon after arriving to try to prevent a fresh outbreak of fighting between warring Misseriya and Rizeigat nomads.
“While our forces were making administrative and security arrangements (on Tuesday morning) to prevent the parties from fighting, the Rizeigat started heavy firing and attacked,” said the ministry’s statement.
“It is estimated the attackers were made up of 3,000 fighters on horseback and 35 vehicles.”
One tribal source, who asked not to be named, said more than 100 tribesmen, security officers and civilians may have been killed in Tuesday’s clashes and other skirmishes between the tribes in recent days.
It was impossible to verify the figures. The ministry statement said there had been deaths and injuries among the security forces and civilians, but gave no figures and no reason for the attack.
The clashes were a reminder of the tense political situation in Southern Kordofan, which borders both the strife-torn Darfur region and southern Sudan, where tensions are still simmering four years after the end of a civil war with the north.
The Rizeigat and Misseriya have clashed in the past, in fighting often rooted in disputes over grazing land and access to water.
Clashes in recent years have been particularly fierce, fueled by bad blood over past killings and a ready supply of arms from other conflicts. A series of reconciliation conferences have failed to achieve lasting settlements.
“They were armed to the teeth, both the Misseriya and the Rizeigat. There were heavy losses on both sides over the past few days,” said one senior member of the Misseriya tribe who asked not to be named.
“There were also deaths among the police who were also caught up in it all.”
The government raised the political temperature in Southern Kordofan earlier this month by naming a new governor — Ahmed Haroun, a divisive figure distrusted by local residents and wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
On taking up his new post, Haroun said one of his first priorities would be to arrange a reconciliation drive to end conflicts between all the region’s warring communities.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens, editing by Tim Pearce