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UN: Clashes on Rise in South Sudan as Polls Near

A U.N. official says incidents of inter-tribal violence have escalated in South Sudan before key elections, killing 450 and displacing nearly 60,000 since the beginning of this year. The April vote is to be Sudan's first multi-party polls in 24 years.

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The U.N. Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Juba, South Sudan, Lise Grande, says the number of internal conflicts in the semi-autonomous region has risen from last year's levels.

"What we saw last year was a very sharp rise in inter-tribal violence," said Grande. "There were about 100, 102 separate tribal conflicts last year, and as a result of that, there were almost 400,000 people which were newly displaced. This year alone, since the first of January, we have had more than 70 incidents, just in the first two-and-a-half months of this year."

She says 450 have been killed and nearly 60,000 displaced by the clashes.

The United Nations has warned in the past that violence in the South, if not curbed, could complicate Sudan's upcoming polls.

Grande said recent clashes have mostly been related to conflict over access to water, especially sensitive to many Sudanese because of traditional livelihoods revolving around cattle.

"A lot of [the conflict] is in the area of Unity State, Lake State, and Warrap State," Grande added. "There has been a real concentration in those three states of intertribal trouble. Now, a great deal of that is related to the competition over scarce resources, particularly water. The cattle are very thirsty at this point, the rains have not come yet, they need to get to the water points, and water points are dried up all along those regular migration routes, and that has been one of the causes of the friction."

Officials working on election issues in the South say violence is just one of the factors that could complicate next month's scheduled vote.

The Carter Center released a statement late last week that cautioned that the elections might have to be slightly postponed due to logistical delays in Sudan's preparation for the vote.

Northern opposition parties have also called for the elections to be delayed until November. Sudanese officials have rejected calls to push back the polls, from April 11.

Ballots have to be brought to most of the polling stations across the South. Many southerners live in remote areas difficult to access by road, and many roads become impassable during rainy season. Rains have started to fall and are expected to pick up fully in the next two or three weeks.

Sudan's elections were agreed to as part of a 2005 peace deal ending a two-decade-long civil war, during which an estimated two million people died. Also stipulated in the pact is a January 2011 southern independence referendum. Southerners are widely thought to favor forming a separate state.