The entire population of the Heglig area fled a military standoff between Sudan and South Sudan, leaving thousands of civilians displaced in the open, the United Nations said on Sunday.
“According to the government of Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) and other reports received by the U.N., the entire civilian population of Heglig town and neighboring villages fled,” the U.N.’s humanitarian agency said.
The report cited HAC figures saying 5,000 people had escaped from Heglig, mostly to the communities of Kharasana and Keilak, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Heglig, Sudan’s main oilfield.
South Sudan occupied the field on April 10, in a move that coincided with waves of air strikes against the South, sparking fears of wider war.
A Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) mission to Kharasana and Keilak on April 14 and 15 “reported that most of the displaced people are scattered in the bushes or living in the open approximately three to four kilometers away from Kharasana town,” said the UN report covering the period until April 15.
“The SRCS mission indicated that food, water and sanitation are priority needs for the displaced in Kharasana,” the U.N. said.
South Sudan’s army said on Sunday it had completed its withdrawal from Heglig, but condemned the north for bombing the area as the pullout was still under way.
Heglig is part of South Kordofan state, where Sudan has cited security concerns in severely controlling access for foreign relief agencies.
Ethnic rebels have been fighting in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile for months.
Sudan did not allow journalists or other observers into the Heglig area during the standoff with the South, meaning the situation has been difficult to verify.
A U.S. envoy said on Thursday that Khartoum has agreed “in principle” to allow assistance into South Kordofan, where aid workers warn that hundreds of thousands of people could go hungry.