Ethiopian peacekeeping troops and deployed in the United Nations (UN) Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) patrol at night in Abyei town, Abyei state on December 14, 2016. The Abyei Administrative Area It is a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan, with long-standing intercommunal tensions between the Ngok-Dinka ethnic majority and the pastoralist Misseriya population, who migrate seasonally through the area from the north. PHOTO FROM AFP ARCHIVE

NAIROBI, Kenya — Heavy fighting Sunday in a disputed region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan killed at least 32 people, including a U.N. peacekeeper, authorities said.

Civilians and a Ghanaian soldier serving in a peacekeeping force died when unknown gunmen attacked two villages in the southern part of the Abyei administrative region, local media reported.

A South Sudanese radio station, Eye Radio Juba, quoted Abyei Information Minister Bolis Kuoch as saying that 32 people were killed and another 20 injured, “but the clashes have now stopped and the situation has calmed down.”

Intercommunal and cross-border clashes have escalated since South Sudan sent its troops into the contested territory in March. The peacekeeping mission condemned the troop deployment, saying it would create “untold suffering and humanitarian concerns” for civilians.

International soldiers have been deployed to Aleel and Rum Ameer counties as part of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei to help end the escalating conflict.

The Security Council voted unanimously last week to renew UNIFSA’s mandate until November 15, 2024.

Earlier this month, the UN special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, warned that the “unprecedented” 7-month war between the Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary force was closing in on South Sudan and from the Abyei region.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in mid-April, displacing millions of people within Sudan and to neighboring countries.

Sudan and South Sudan have been at odds over control of the oil-rich Abyei region since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after a 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war between the north and south of Sudan.

The agreement required both sides to establish Abyei’s final status through negotiations, but it was never implemented.

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