|Observers have warned a conflict may erupt if the Abyei issue is not resolved [EPA]
A vote on whether the contested Sudanese oil district of Abyei should remain part of the north or join the south can no longer go ahead on time, a senior official in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, has said.
"It is very clear that right now it is not possible to have the Abyei referendum on 9 Jan 2011," Didiri Mohammad Ahmad, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), told reporters on Thursday.
"We all agree that this is no longer practical. We agreed that the next talks we will try to look for other alternatives."
Jalal Yousuf Al-Digair, Sudan's minister of international co-operation, told the same news conference that the government would be open to a proposal to delay the referendum by a few months.
However, the area's administrator responded by saying that local residents in the region will not accept a delay and may hold their own vote without the government.
"A delayed vote is unacceptable. The people of Abyei are still holding out for the referendum to be held on Januart 9," Deng Arop Kuol, a member of south Sudan's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told the Reuters news agency.
"If the government does not give them that option we can have a self-run referendum."
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."
Al Jazeera's Hassan Ibrahim added that according to the protocol introduced in 2009, all residents of Abyei are eligible to vote, including the Messiriya nomadic herders.
"However, the SPLM says that residents who spend more than seven months in the area are eligible to vote, and this violates the protocol," he said.
The residents of Abyei region were promised a vote on whether to stay with the north or join south Sudan as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
North and south Sudan have clashed in the area since the signing of the peace deal.
The country's main political parties, who both claim the area, remain at loggerheads over how to organise the vote and analysts have warned growing tensions over the plebiscite could re-ignite conflict.
The latest round of negotiations between the parties, attended by Scott Gration, the envoy to Sudan, ended in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on Tuesday without agreement.
The Abyei vote is scheduled for the same day as southerners are due to vote on whether to stay part of Sudan or declare independence.