United Nations: After South Sudan became independent on July 9, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a new UN mission requesting 7000 troops in order to protect civilians and sojught a mandate to help the new government prevent conflict and consolidate peace.

Ban's proposal in a report to the Security Council was circulated on Wednesday, as the UN's most powerful body was visiting Sudan.

But it was written before serious fighting erupted last week in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region on the border between the Arab-dominated north and mainly ethnic African south. The clashes threaten to unravel a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war and re-ignite the fighting.

The south voted overwhelmingly to secede from Sudan, Africa's largest country, in a January referendum called for under the peace agreement. But key provisions of the 2005 agreement have not been resolved.

The secretary-general called the dispute over the future status of Abyei "the greatest challenge" to implement the peace accord.

He urged leaders from both sides to demonstrate "political will" and solve key issues including setting the north-south borders, resolving Abyei's future through the referendum called for in the peace agreement, and agreeing on security arrangements.

Ban said the best way is through the framework established in the 2005 agreement until an alternative arrangement is made which will mitigate conflict on either side of the border, including Abyei.

"I therefore cannot stress enough upon the critical nature of these negotiations and the responsibility that rests on the leaders of the two states to reach agreements that will provide the foundation for peace and security in the Sudan and South Sudan and the region as a whole," the secretary-general said.

The government of South Sudan has asked UN to establish a follow-up mission after the current mandate expires on July 9, but the government in Khartoum has not.

Ban urged the north and the south, and the Security Council, to consider extending the mandate of the current 10,400-strong UN peacekeeping mission for three months, from July 9 to Oct. 9.

(Agencies)