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Sudan: Satellite Images Show Burned Villages, Military Buildup

Satellite Sentinel Project(WASHINGTON) -- A satellite imagery network set up by actor George Clooney to document abuses in Sudan released a set of photographs Friday showing the smoldering remains of structures in a tense oil-rich region that is coveted by both sides of a long-standing conflict there.

One of the images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project shows at least 20 civilian buildings that appear to have been intentionally burned in the village of Maker Abior. Other images show a buildup of Sudanese Armed Forces units, including artillery, near the Abyei region.

Another image released Friday shows burned structures in the village of Todach. Clooney's group says the absence of scorched ground vegetation or trees is indicative of apparent arson.

In the past week, intense fighting around Abyei has killed at least 100 people and countless more have been displaced or fled in fear. According to the Enough Project, which partnered with Clooney on the six-month, $750,000 satellite mission, the motivations of the fighting depend on which side is talking. Southern Sudanese authorities say the attackers were members of the Sudanese army and allied militias, while some tribal officials say southern forces have instigated the violence by disguising troops as part of a police force that is meant to be neutral. Neither side is supposed to have troops in the area.

"The United States calls on local and national authorities to ensure that the UN Mission in Sudan has the access required to protect civilians, increase patrols where fighting is taking place, and engage with local leaders to restore calm," said State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.

Clooney has lent his star power to the cause of peace in Sudan and has made several trips there in the past year to highlight the violence.

Oil rich Abyei remains at the heart of a smoldering conflict between North and South Sudan. The two sides fought a bloody civil war that lasted for decades. It ended in 2005 with the signing of a US-brokered comprehensive peace agreement that called for referenda this year on South Sudan's independence and on the status of Abyei.

In January the South Sudan referendum took place under what international monitors called free and relatively peaceful circumstances, resulting in overwhelming support for South Sudan's independence, but the referendum on Abyei was delayed over concerns that conflict there would jeopardize the rest of the process in the rest of the country.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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