KHARTOUM, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Former south rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) killed 22 army soldiers in the disputed area of Abyei, the Sudanese army said Friday, announcing the oil- producing area a "war zone."
Sawarmi Khalid Saad, spokesman of the Sudanese Armed Forces ( SAF), told a press conference that a SAF troop was ambushed Thursday by SPLA forces seven km north of Abyei town in the Abyei area located on the border between north and south Sudan, which was claimed by both sides.
"The SAF force comprised of 200 soldiers, 22 of them were killed, nine injured, eight managed to reach the adjacent areas to Abyei and the rest are still missing," said the SAF spokesman.
"Abyei area has become a war zone," he said, stressing the SAF "maintains the right to respond to this attack which constitutes a grave violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)."
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on Friday strongly condemned the attack, in which, it said a SAF convoy escorted by UN peacekeepers had been targeted by unidentified armed persons in Abyei.
The UNMIS said in a statement that "the incident took place at around 18:30 (1530 GMT) in Dokura, an area controlled by the Southern Sudan Police Services (SSPS), approximately 10 km north of Abyei town."
"At the time of the attack ... the convoy was transporting 200 troops of Joint Integrated Units of the Sudan Armed Forces to their designated post, as part of the deployment plan of the Kadogli agreements, which had been agreed to by all parties," the statement said.
It noted that "this act constitutes a serious breach of previous agreements made between the two parties. It is also a criminal attack against the UNMIS calls on the parties to immediately investigate the incident and take appropriate action against the perpetrators of this deliberate attack."
Early this month, the Abyei area witnessed violent clashes between the SAF and the southern Sudanese forces that resulted in killing of 14 persons, according to the UN.
Violence has aggravated in Abyei since the south Sudan referendum on Jan. 9, 2011 which resulted in separation of south Sudan.
A referendum on Abyei was supposed to be held coincident with the south Sudan referendum, but it was postponed in the wake of a difference between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) over who has the right to vote in the referendum. The NCP said the Mesiria tribe has the right to vote, while the SPLM insisted that only Dinka Nkok has that right.
The ruling NCP and the SPLM earlier agreed to withdraw all their "unauthoriized forces" from Abyei, as of last Tuesday, leaving the area to be patrolled by the north-south Joint Integrated Units in accordance with the Kadogli agreement.