UNITED NATIONS, Nov 16 – UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday raised fears of "wider conflict" in Sudan and said the United Nations wants to send in more peacekeepers ahead of a key self-determination vote.
Amid statements by the rival north and south governments that they did not want war, the UN Security Council demanded new efforts by both sides to ensure the January 9 referendum is held on time in South Sudan and oil-rich Abyei.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered Sudan "dramatically" better relations with Washington if Khartoum sticks to its side of the 2005 peace accord with the south that ended a civil war in which two million people died.
Tensions between the north and south have risen again as troubled preparations for the vote move slowly ahead.
Ban highlighted "hostile public statements and accusations of ceasefire violations which risk heightening anxiety and provoking isolated security incidents that can escalate in a wider conflict."
He said the United Nations was talking with the north and south "on options for a possible augmentation of additional UN troops to increase referendum and post-referendum security."
The UN force, UNAMID, currently has about 10,000 troops in Sudan.
"However, the presence of UN troops will not be enough to prevent the return to war should widespread hostilities erupt," Ban stressed.
"The potential for unintentional conflict is especially high" in oil-rich Abyei, where there are the strongest fears that the referendum will not be held on time, the UN leader said.
The UN leader said aid agencies have contingency plans to provide assistance in case of "referendum-related violence."
He appealed for donations for the 63 million dollars needed "to pre-position humanitarian assistance near potential hotspots."
Many governments now doubt whether the January 9 vote will be on time, even though they have seen some positive events in Sudan.
Voter registration started on schedule on Monday and the north and south have agreed to make a new push to agree on borders, the sharing of oil revenues and other deadlocked issues.
International envoy Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, said talks involving Sudan\’s President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan\’s leader Salva Kiir would start November 22.
Sudan\’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti said many "positive developments" had emerged and said the two sides would "cooperate on solving issues and will not go back to war."
Pagan Amum, secretary general of the south\’s Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), highlighted that the south is likely to choose secession but told the council: "We shall always remain neighbors and we have no choice but to remain good neighbors."
Clinton said the January 9 vote "is critical to peace and stability not just for Sudan but also for the neighbors."
She pressed the two sides to speed up their negotiations and said they "must avoid inflammatory rhetoric, quell rumors and dampen animosities."
But she said if Khartoum holds the referendum on time, recognizes the result and settles the future of Abyei then the US government would move to take Sudan off the US list of terrorist backers.
If Sudan "commits to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur and takes other steps toward peace and accountability" the US administration is ready to offer an end to US sanctions, help with international debt relief, increased trade and "forging a mutually beneficial relationship."
A Security Council statement on Sudan read by British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed "deep concern" about the growing violence in Darfur and deadlocked peace talks between rebel groups and the Khartoum government.
The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003.
It called on the Sudan government to give greater cooperation to the UN mission in Darfur and "to give full, unhindered access and freedom of movement" to UN peacekeepers and aid workers.