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Monitors: Evidence of 'Ethnic Cleansing' in Sudan's Abyei

Women line up for food distribution in a makeshift camp for internally displaced people in the village of Mayen Abun, southern Sudan, May 26, 2011

An international monitoring group says there are indications of state-sponsored "ethnic cleansing" in Sudan's contested Abyei region.

North Sudanese forces occupied the region a little more than a week ago, prompting southern troops to withdraw and thousands of residents to flee southward.

The Satellite Sentinel Project says northern troops and militia have now destroyed about one-third of all civilian structures in Abyei's main town.

The group, which monitors Sudan through satellite imagery, also confirms the reported destruction of a major bridge south of town and the ransacking of a World Food Program storage facility.

It says the north's actions may add up to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

North Sudanese officials have not responded to the group's accusations.

Representatives from the north and the soon-to-be-independent south met in both Khartoum and Addis Ababa Saturday to discuss the Abyei situation.

Southern officials say 80,000 people have been displaced from the region, and the United Nations says tens of thousands are living out in the open, with little food or fuel.

Oil-rich Abyei has long been a point of contention between the north and south. The sides fought fiercely over the region during a 21-year civil war that ended in 2005.

South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January referendum, and is due to declare independence on July 9.

But the north and south have been unable to agree on who should control Abyei, which sits along the north-south border.

Abyei was scheduled to hold its own referendum on whether to join the north or south. But the vote was cancelled when the sides could not agree on who was eligible to vote.

The United Nations, United States, and south Sudan have all called on the north to withdraw its forces from Abyei.