UNITED NATIONS (AFP) ? The United Nations is sending peacekeeper reinforcements to the strife-torn Sudanese state of South Kordofan and has turned its main base there into a safe haven for refugees, UN officials said.
More than 120 Bangladeshi troops will lead reinforcements sent to the state's main city, Kadugli, where Khartoum government troops are battling forces loyal to southern Sudan which is on the verge of forming a breakaway nation.
Heavy fighting in the state on the border between north and south Sudan has raged since June 5. Khartoum forces are battling militia aligned to the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said a Security Council meeting had been told how Kadugli Cathedral had been razed and other churches burned during fighting and that the area around the main base of the UN mission, UNMIS, has become a "focus" of the fighting.
"It's important that the compound of UNMIS can become a sort of safe area where civilians are effectively protected. We have been reassured that instructions have been sent to UNMIS to do their job," Araud told reporters after the meeting.
A UN peacekeeping spokesman said the company of Bangladesh troops had been sent to Kadugli and that the area around the UN compound had become a safe haven to protect civilians.
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told the Security Council that up to 6,000 people were camped out around the base. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 have been displaced by the fighting in South Kordofan alone, including about 70 percent of the population of Kadugli.
Le Roy said tensions have been heightened by "an overall escalation of political rhetoric by both parties."
The Security Council is to get a briefing on Monday from former South African president Thabo Mbeki and UN envoy Haile Menkerios on attempts to seal a peace deal between the north and south governments.
Araud said that if there was no agreement by Monday the Security Council would have to "express itself in very strong terms to call for an end to the violence."