UN to send 100 extra troops to Sudan's tense Abyei
By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The United Nations is sending 100 more troops to Sudan's oil-producing Abyei region to step up security ahead of a referendum that could pitch the area back into bloodshed.
South Sudan is due to vote on whether to secede from the north on January 9 next year, while Abyei, which lies between north and south, is scheduled to decide on the same day which half of the country it wishes to join.
But north and south Sudan, which signed a deal in 2005 to end decades of civil war, have yet to agree even on the composition of the commission to plan the Abyei referendum or who will vote in it.
"UNMIS (the U.N. mission) has been making adjustments to the deployment of their existing troops ... throughout the ceasefire zone to defuse tensions where they exist -- Abyei is an example," the top U.N. official in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, told reporters on Monday.
Officials from UNMIS, the U.N. mission monitoring the north-south peace deal, said a company of about 100 troops would be sent.
Menkerios said no decision had been made on increasing the 10,000-strong mission in order to police a buffer zone along the disputed north-south border. South Sudan's President Salva Kiir requested the additional troops during a visit to Sudan by U.N. Security Council envoys this month.
"Indeed the U.N. is assessing the needs and will continue to consult with the parties on how best it can assist them to respond to these needs," Menkerios said.
Despite an international ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei's borders, the frontier has not been demarcated on the ground. The north says it is now impossible to hold the Abyei vote on time, but the south rejects any delay.
The date for the southern referendum is also under pressure, with the final voter register due to be completed on December 31, just nine days before the vote. No party has dared to voice support for a delay fearing violent demonstrations by southerners anxious to express their right to self-determination after fighting Africa's longest civil war.
Most analysts believe southerners will vote to secede from the north, creating the world's newest nation.