"Tribal violence in southern Sudan has killed at least 1,200 people this year and could mar the country's first multi-party elections in two decades if it is not stopped, the UN's peacekeeping coordinator said.
Tribal clashes in south Sudan's states of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Lakes have also displaced 250,000 people since January, the UN says. Annual death tolls from such incidents in recent years have been about 20 people.
Speaking to Reuters in a telephone interview from Juba, David Gressly, the United Nations Mission in Sudan's (UNMIS) regional coordinator for south, warned that the violence could mar the elections due next April.
'At least 1,200 people have been killed since January and it's probably higher than that,' Gressly said. 'What is different this year is the number of deaths and in many cases women and children have been targeted.'
'It is a concern of the United Nations and other organisations working here, that if this violence persists, it will be difficult to move election materials in some of the areas affected by the violence,' he said.
The vote set for April 2010 is crucial to the success of a peace deal which ended a civil war between north and south Sudan, and to the chances of Africa's largest country achieving long-term stability.
Voters will choose Sudan's president, members of parliament, state governors and members of state assemblies. In the south, citizens will also select Southern Sudan's president and members of its legislative assembly."
MORE: "Interview: South Sudan tribal violence kills at least 1,200" (Reuters)