Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday the Sudanese government has indicated it will create conditions for thousands of residents who fled the disputed Abyei region on the border between north and south Sudan to return.
Ban said at a news conference that it was "far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place" in the contested oil-rich region.
But he acknowledged a confidential report by the U.N. Mission in Sudan, obtained last Friday by The Associated Press, which warned that the invasion of Abyei by Sudan's military could lead to "ethnic cleansing" if conditions are not created for the return of more than 30,000 Ngok Dinkas who fled their homes.
"We are doing our best efforts to prevent such things," Ban said. "This issue has been brought to the attention of officials of the government of Sudan, who have indicated that they will create the conditions for IDPs (internally displaced persons) to return."
Just weeks before South Sudan breaks away from the Khartoum-based northern government and becomes the world's newest nation, clashes between the north and south have threatened to unravel a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war and re-ignite the fighting.
The north's invasion of the Abyei region and takeover of the town of Abyei was precipitated by a May 19 attack on northern and U.N. troops by southern soldiers.
The Ngok Dinka, a black tribe that associates itself with Sudan's south, fled Abyei when northern troops and ethnic Misseriya _ Arab cattle herders aligned with the north _ moved in and looted homes. The U.N. report estimated that between 15 percent and 20 percent of the homes in Abyei were burned in what it called "deliberate destruction" and a violation of international humanitarian law.
The secretary-general urged the north and south to resume negotiations before South Sudan's independence on July 9 and resolve not only the "unacceptable" situation in Abyei but other key issues including demarcation of the north-south border, sharing oil wealth, citizenship and security.