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JUBA: About 40 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in violence in a disputed area on South Sudan’s border with Sudan over the weekend and hundreds have sought refuge in a UN peacekeepers’ compound, a government official said on Monday.

Frequent clashes have taken place in Abyei region between rival factions of the Dinka ethnic group because of a dispute over the location of an administrative boundary where significant tax revenue is collected from cross-border trade.

Abyei is an oil-rich area that is jointly administered by South Sudan and Sudan, which have both staked claims to it.

The region’s information minister, Bulis Koch, said: “In the attacks that took place on Feb. 2 and 3, several markets were set on fire, property looted and altogether 19 civilians got killed and 18 others were wounded.” A further 18 people were killed in separate attacks on Sunday, he said. Among those killed were three children and a local staff member working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The clashes also displaced hundreds of people, who sought refuge in the compound of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) peacekeeping force.

UNISFA peacekeepers were also attacked in the latest bout of violence. An armoured personnel carrier came under heavy fire in an ambush, the force said in a statement. It had intensified its patrols by land and air to prevent an escalation, it said.

Koch said young men from neighbouring Warrap state and from a militia linked to a rebel and spiritual leader Gai Machiek had taken part in the violence.

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