19 October 2010The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan now has 24 helicopters, an increase of eight, to help move 120 tons of material for the January referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan declares independence from Africa’s largest country, a senior official said today. “We have a large mission support capability here in the south as well as other parts of Sudan to carry out the referendum,” the Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan in the UN mission known as UNMIS, David Gressly, told a news briefing in Juba, the southern capital.“Our aviation assets will undergo a substantial expansion to meet the challenge of reaching some of the more remote polling and registration centres that will be established between now and next January,” he said.Two referenda will be held on 9 January, with the first, on self-determination in Southern Sudan being the final stage in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of warfare between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The second in the oil-rich Abyei region will decide whether it is to be part of northern or southern Sudan.Yesterday, citing critical issues still outstanding and reported troop build-ups by both sides, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Haile Menkerios told a news conference in Khartoum, the capital, that the UN would increase its capacity as needed to prevent confrontations that could derail the entire peace process.“The main challenge is what everybody in southern Sudan faces, the logistical challenge,” Mr. Gressley said today. “It’s very difficult still to move around, even with some of the road construction and de-mining that have gone on, so logistics will be a major challenge and that’s one of the major support elements that we will provide.” The other challenge is the very tight deadline with less than three months to go. UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED) Officer-in-charge Meaghan Fitzgerald told the briefing that the 120 tons to be distributed include multiple types of materials, ranging from office equipment and furniture for state- and county-level offices to training materials for the registration, to vehicles and motorbikes to the actual registration materials themselves in terms of the books and the kits.“When we get closer to the referendum, they will also include the actual referendum polling materials as well,” she said. “So it’s a lot of materials.”The north-south civil war killed at least 2 million people, uprooted 4.5 million more, and forced some 600,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.