WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States urged leaders in north and south Sudan on Wednesday to curb violence in the country's contested Abyei region and to meet as soon as possible to resolve its final status.
"The United States deplores the recent violence in the Abyei region of Sudan and calls on northern and southern Sudanese leaders to take immediate steps to prevent future attacks and restore calm," the White House said.
Violence has surged in the central, fertile Abyei region, claimed by both north and south Sudan. Ownership of the territory is one of the biggest bones of contention between the two halves of the country in the build up to the secession of the oil-producing south, expected to take place on July 9.
"This dangerous standoff is unacceptable for the Sudanese people, and we condemn the deployment forces by both sides," the White House said in a statement.
Southerners, who mostly follow Christian and traditional beliefs, voted overwhelmingly to declare independence in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the Muslim north.
Abyei's status was left undecided in the accord, stoking tensions between northern Arab Misseriya nomads and south-linked Dinka Ngok people who both use the area.
The White House said Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Salva Kiir, president of southern Sudan, should "meet as soon as possible and demonstrate that they are serious about making urgent progress" to resolve Abyei's final status.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Philip Barbara)