Many fear return of violence to the tense region ahead of the referendum on southern independence [AFP]

The Sudanese government has objected to a proposal to move United Nations peacekeepers to the tense border between the north and south ahead of a referendum on independence for the south.

A senior Sudanese official said on Friday that the UN would need Khartoum's approval to move troops to the region to avoid violence ahead of the the January referendum that could see the break-up of Africa's biggest nation

"I don't think that it would be legal, the UN Security Council cannot deploy more soldiers without the government's approval," Rabie Abdulatti, a senior official with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), told the AFP news agency.

The statment came after Alain Le Roy, the UN peacekeeping chief, said troops would be moved toward the north-south border within weeks.

"We will increase our presence but only in some 'hotspots'," Le Roy said.

Peace agreement

Unmis, the United Nations Mission in Sudan, was established to support the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two-decade war between the north and south. January's referendum was called as part of the peace accord.  

About 10,600 troops have been deployed in the UN force, but Le Roy acknowledged that this would not be enough to create a buffer zone along the whole of the 2,000km border.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said Salva Kiir, the president of semi-autonomous south Sudan, had asked for a frontier buffer zone when he met Security Council ambassadors last week.

"President Kiir also warned that he fears the north may be preparing for war and may be moving troops southward," Rice told the council.

Southern Sudan and the oil-rich Abyei border region are to hold a referendum on January 9 on whether they want to break with the north.

The votes are widely expected to lead to secession, but preparations are seriously behind schedule and many in the international community fear a conflict if there is a delay.

Source: Agencies