KHARTOUM: The UN has not yet decided whether to send more troops to the tense border between north and south Sudan ahead of a southern independence vote in January but has concentrated its peacekeepers in sensitive areas, a UN official said on Monday.
"While the Security Council and the secretary general have expressed their readiness to consider additional support to address security concerns, no decision has yet been made by them for additional troops," the head of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, told a news conference.
Earlier this month, south Sudan president Salva Kiir asked a delegation of visiting UN Security Council ambassadors to boost troop numbers along the border to create a 32 kilometer (20 mile) wide buffer zone.
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said UNMIS could not create a buffer zone along the entire 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) border with the 10,600 troops and police at its disposal.
But Khartoum has rejected any increase in the strength of the peacekeeping force.
"So far, UNMIS has been making adjustments to the deployment of its existing troops, overstretchedly deployed throughout the ceasefire zone, to defuse tensions," Menkerios said.
"If at any point, there is any need to make an adjustment to that deployment in order to reinforce work in certain areas to help defuse tensions or possible tensions, then we do so," he said.
Menkerios said that UNMIS had deployed extra peacekeepers to the disputed oil district of Abyei on the north-south border as tensions mounted over the preparations for a vote on the district’s future which is supposed to be held on the same day as the wider southern independence referendum.
"I refer to Abyei as an example where we made some deployment of our reserves in order to reinforce continued patrolling," the UNMIS chief said.
Under a 2005 peace deal which put an end to Africa’s longest-running civil war, the district is due to vote on whether to remain part of the north or join the south.
But northern and southern leaders have been at loggerheads over who should be eligible to vote.
The Misseriya — Arab nomads who use land in Abyei for seasonal pasture — have threatened to derail the referendum if they are not granted the same voting rights as the Dinka Ngok, settled farmers seen as favorable to joining the south.
Talks between the two sides broke down in Ethiopia last week, prompting a northern official to say it would now be impossible to hold the Abyei vote as planned in January.
His announcement drew an angry response in Abyei and from the southern leadership, some of whose members come from the district.
Further talks are planned in Addis Ababa on October 27.
US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told the Security Council that the southern leadership was increasingly concerned about the north’s intentions.
"President Kiir also warned that he fears the north may be preparing for war and may be moving troops southward," Rice said.