Rabie Abdulatti, a senior official with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said on Friday 15th October that the UN would need Khartoum's approval to move troops to the region. "I don't think that it would be legal, the UN Security Council cannot deploy more soldiers without the government's approval," Abdulatti told AFP news agency.
The statement came after Alain Le Roy, the UN peacekeeping chief, said troops would be moved to 'hotspots' in the border region within weeks.
Le Roy was speaking in response to a request from Salva Kiir, president of semi-autonous Southern Sudan, who asked for a frontier buffer zone when he met Security Council delegates last week.
About 10,600 troops have been deployed as part of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which was established in 2005, to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the two-decade war between the north and the south. January's referendum is part of the peace accord, and the South is widely expected to vote for independence.
Peace, however, has been shaky since 2005, and the running party in the South, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), has warned that Khartoum might try to interrupt the referendum, and has said that the NCP has persisted in deploying its forces at the border with the south, in possible preparation for war.
The SPLM welcomed the deployment of UN troops at the border region.
The oil-rich Abyei region, which straddles the north and the south, is due to have its own referendum on 9th January regarding whether to stay in the north, or join what is expected to become the independent south, but last week, officials in Khartoum said the vote would have to be delayed. "It is very clear that right now it is not possible to have the Abyei referendum on 9 Jan 2011," Didiri Mohammad Ahmad, a NCP member told reporters on Thursday 14th October.
"We all agree that this is no longer practical. We agreed that the next talks we will try to look for other alternatives."
The SPLM, however, disagrees. "A delayed vote is unacceptable. The people of Abyei are still holding out for the referendum to be held on January 9," Deng Arop Kuol, a SPLM member told the Reuters news agency. "If the government does not give them that option we can have a self-run referendum."
Issues over who is eligible to vote seems to be the cause for delay, although the SPLM says the north is using this as a delaying strategy. Atem Garang, a senior SPLM leader told Al Jazeera that there was no reason to delay the vote.
"Abyei protocols is very clear, local officials in Abyei itself have to identify who the residents are, and who is eligible to vote," he said.
"Everything is in its place, and there is no justification for a delay."
Sources: Al Jazeera, Press TV, Relief Web
For more information on the Southern Sudan referendum, see the full story here.