S.Sudan, Sudan leaders talk to defuse disputed zone clash

The presidents of South Sudan and Sudan held talks in a bid to ease tensions after deadly clashes in Abyei, a region claimed by both sides, officials said Monday.

The talks came after UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the African Union appealed for calm in the flashpoint area following the killing of a tribal chief and a UN peacekeeper on Saturday.

"Our president has been in direct contact with president Bashir... they exchanged ideas about this sad incident," South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters.

Both countries have condemned the fighting which killed Kual Deng Majok, the Abyei leader of the Dinka Ngok, which is considered loyal to South Sudan.

Majok and an Ethiopian peacekeeper were shot dead in an attack by gunmen from the Misseriya, a pastoralist people who graze their cattle in Abyei and are seen as supporters of Khartoum.

Several Misseriya are also reported to have been killed, as well as a Dinka colleague of Majok. Two peacekeepers were also wounded.

Ban urged both sides to "avoid any escalation of this unfortunate event," while the AU, which has been mediating between Khartoum and Juba on Abyei, said they must "ensure that the current situation does not spiral out of control."

The UN Security Council "condemned in the strongest terms" the killings by the Missseriya and welcomed Sudan's "pledge to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The council stressed "the need for continued hard work" by both sides to agree the future of Abyei, the most sensitive dispute left unsettled between Sudan and South Sudan after their split in July 2011.

A referendum to determine Abyei's future was stalled and Sudanese troops shortly after took over the region by force.

Benjamin said he believed the killings were "done by Misseriya militia... to frustrate the Abyei referendum." However, Khartoum has insisted it remains committed to all agreements signed with Juba.

Around 4,000 Ethiopian troops with the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) are based in the district.

South Sudan "has requested UNISFA search for the perpetrators to bring them to justice," Benjamin added, calling Saturday's attack "provocative killings".

Majok's death is the most serious incident since Sudanese troops withdrew in May last year to end a year-long occupation that forced more than 100,000 people to flee Abyei towards South Sudan.

While Sudan and South Sudan have been implementing timetables set out in March for restoring relations, they have not met deadlines they also agreed upon to set up Abyei's administrative structure, including a police service.