Pagan Amum, secretary general of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement , told reporters northern troops were building up around the remote central town, with southern troops likely to follow.
Amum said the way to avoid a full-scale conflict was for all troops to leave the town, to be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force or, eventually, joint north-south military units.
"We are on the brink of war as we speak. Clashes have already happened and forces are building up," he said before a news conference in Khartoum.
Sudan has witnessed sporadic, sometimes fierce fighting in recent weeks in the Abyei region, which is claimed by both Khartoum and the southern government.
Some 21 northern Sudanese army soldiers and an unknown number of southerners were killed last week in fighting that followed a week of skirmishes sparked by a local dispute. The clashes have displaced tens of thousands of people.
A two-decade-long civil war fought by Sudan's government and southern rebels and complicated by issues of ethnicity, ideology and oil ended with a 2005 peace deal and a coalition government formed by the SPLM and the northern National Congress Party
But ties have been strained by the failure to agree on borders or a local government for Abyei. At stake are a nearby oil pipeline and installations that produce around half of Sudan's daily output of 500,000 barrels of oil, and grazing grounds and territory coveted by northerners and southerners.
Amum said northern government forces had been building up positions close to the town since last week's heavy clashes.
"I'm sure this will get a response from the SPLA," he added, referring to the armed wing of the SPLM -- now the army of Sudan's semi-autonomous southern government.
Amum said the south was doing all it could to avoid war. "For us, war is not an option ... Moving forces out of the area is the most important step now," he said.
"The only logical common sense is to demilitarise the area, deploy U.N. forces into the area, then after that we can proceed to deploy fresh joint integrated forces into the area."
"If the parties cannot agree to form a joint administration, let there be an international administration," he said.
Amum accused northern forces of starting the clashes to clear the area's population and claim the land as their own.
" might have thought they could find a final solution to the problem of Abyei by replacing the population of Abyei."
He said the SPLM condemned "this barbaric act" by the Sudan government. "This was an act perpetrated by SAF (northern Sudan Armed Forces) under the direct leadership and command of the National Congress Party," Amum said.
Didiri Mohamed Ahmed, the NCP official in charge of Abyei, said he would not respond to Amum's comments ahead of a meeting of military officers and senior officials from both the north and south, due to take place in Khartoum on Tuesday.
He said he was also waiting for the results of a U.N.-led investigation into who sparked the latest clashes in Abyei. "When we know the culprit, hopefully both sides will have the courage to take the culprit to account," he added.
Sudan's ruling party last week denied southern accusations Khartoum was sending more troops to Abyei.
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