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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan still has not agreed to a U.N. plan to increase its peacekeeping force there by 20 percent, as the African nation heads into a referendum that could split it in two, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Thursday.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador said there was no need for the proposed addition of 2,000 troops to the 10,000-strong force, which monitors compliance with a 2005 deal that ended a civil war between north and south Sudan.
The oil-producing south is due to vote in a referendum starting on Sunday on whether to secede. Voters are widely expected to back secession.
The proposal to boost the U.N. force, known as UNMIS, was first mentioned last November by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a time when there were widespread fears that the plebiscite could spark a new civil war.
The plan was a response to a request from the president of south Sudan, Salva Kiir, who asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a U.N.-monitored buffer zone along the semi-autonomous south's border with the north.
"So far we haven't got approval from Khartoum on this issue," U.N. peacekeeping head Alain Le Roy told reporters on Thursday after briefing the Council on Sudan.
"We cannot make a formal request (to the Security Council) until we have the agreement of the parties, and we don't have it yet."
Le Roy admitted that the increase had become less urgent because of rising hopes the referendum would be peaceful, but he said his department was still seeking it.
"We are very confident the referendum will be held peacefully and on time," Le Roy said. "We are much more optimistic today than we were three months ago."
Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told reporters the idea of increasing UNMIS "has not been yet discussed because there is no need for that." Le Roy did not raise the matter at a meeting with Osman on Wednesday, Osman said.
If Sudan were to split, the future of UNMIS would be unclear. U.N. officials said they expected the south, and possibly also the north, to request some kind of continued U.N. presence.