Zambian peacekeepers patrol Abyei, Sudan, after an attack by northern… (Stuart Price / United Nations…)
Reporting from Cairo — Thousands of residents of Sudan's disputed oil-rich Abyei region continued to flee south Tuesday, along with humanitarian groups attempting to prepare clinics and shelters before the rainy season strands the displaced and renders mostly dirt roads impassable.
Chol Anguie, a member the Abyei administrative council, said hundreds of children were separated from their parents when fighting started in the region over the weekend and are searching for their families in towns to the south. Abyei had an estimated population of about 20,000.
"Their situation is very bad and they need urgent assistance," the council member said.
Some of the same families were separated during the country's civil war, others said.
"We are doing our best not to lose our children again. Some were lost these past three days," and some may have been wounded in the fighting and died, said Koul Deng, paramount chief of the Dinka Ngok tribe, reached Tuesday in Agok, a village south of Abyei town.
He did not have figures for those wounded or killed, he said.
The mostly Christian and animist south and the Muslim north fought a long civil war that took more than 2 million lives before a 2005 peace treaty. The south voted in January to form a separate nation this summer, but both regions of Sudan lay claim to Abyei.
Deng predicted that the battle for control of Abyei would rage on for days.
"Luckily we have escaped with our lives to Agok, but we might die here because there is no water, no food, no hospitals," he said
Doctors Without Borders on Tuesday withdrew from Abyei to Agok and even farther south, although it sent a team back to Agok to see whether anyone needed help, said Gustavo Fernandez, the group's program manager in Abyei.
Fernandez said the humanitarian group's primary concern was displaced Abyei residents who had camped out along the road leading to Agok and, two hours farther south, Turalei.
"Maybe they are staying because they have relatives, because they need medical attention; we don't know why," Fernandez said. "We are trying to see and move them to the nearest hospital in Turalei."
The International Organization for Migration had teams assessing how many people had been displaced by the fighting Tuesday and where they could take shelter if the conflict became protracted, said Jill Helke, its chief of mission in Khartoum, the capital.