South Sudan President Salva Kiir ruled out on Thursday a return to war with the north over Abyei even as campaigners released pictures which they say show northern troops helping to loot the contested district after they seized it last week.
"We will not go back to war, it will not happen," said Kiir, in his first public statement since the fighting began last week. "We are committed to peace."
Abyei's capture in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence in July has been condemned by the world powers as a threat to peace between north and south.
Analysts have feared the conflict could tip the two sides back to civil war, which ended in 2005 after more than two decades of bloodshed.
"We fought enough. We made peace," the southern leader said.
Kiir, who is also first vice president of all Sudan, called directly on President Omar al-Bashir to withdraw his troops.
"I am calling upon my president to pull out his forces from Abyei," Kiir said, saying that the conflict sparked by a shooting incident last Thursday was "an over-reaction from my brother in the north."
Abyei, a fertile border district claimed by both north and south, was due to vote on its future in January alongside a referendum on independence for the south, which delivered a landslide for secession.
But Abyei's plebiscite did not happen amid arguments as to who was eligible to vote.
On Saturday northern troops and tanks overran the contested area.
But Kiir reassured the people of Abyei -- who the south believe should be part of their nation-to-be -- that northern soldiers would leave.
"The people now occupying it (Abyei) are invaders and they will go out," he said. "For sure they will leave Abyei."
He also warned Khartoum against any further violence.
"If President Bashir and his army want to continue invading parts of south Sudan, they will have to do it while the world will see them."
Kiir said that the recent fighting would not stop the south being recognised as an independent state in July.
"The south will become independent on 9 July, whether the north recognises the south or not," he said.
The US-based Enough Project released fresh photographs on Thursday that it said showed that northern troops helped in the "organised looting" of Abyei town after they captured it last week.
The group said the pictures "appear to show northern soldiers standing by as militia members load trucks full of looted food and other goods."
The images, which were taken on Monday, two days after northern troops and tanks overran the district, "provide evidence of organised ransacking and razing in Sudan’s Abyei town," the group said.
Other photographs show thatch huts on fire, and gunmen in civilian clothes roaming the town, alongside what appear to be armed police officers.
Another shows a gunman smiling and giving a thumbs-up to the camera, from a camouflaged pickup truck loaded with goods.
"The Sudan government army provides protection for militias that are looting and burning Abyei," said Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast.
"The ultimate strategy is to ethnically cleanse Abyei, similar to what the regime has done in parts of Darfur."
The violence in and around Abyei has driven up to 40,000 people from their homes, the United Nations estimates.
The Sudanese president has rejected international calls to pull his troops out of Abyei.
But in a scaling back of rhetoric, Khartoum’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said there was "no intention of going back to war," the official SUNA news agency said late on Wednesday.
Al-Hajj Adam Yusuf, a senior NCP member, said the party is "committed" to the 2005 peace deal.