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2.8m Sudanese 'risk vote violence'

The United Nations is preparing for the possibility of 2.8 million people being displaced if fighting breaks out over southern Sudan's independence referendum, according to an internal report.

Just over two weeks remain before voters in the south decide whether to remain with the Khartoum-based north or - more likely - to secede and create the world's newest country.

Tensions are high over the vote. Aircraft from the northern Sudanese military have bombed areas in the south or near disputed north-south borders in recent weeks.

The UN report, obtained by The Associated Press, said both the northern and southern militaries had been rearming and that many southerners possessed guns and light weapons.

Both militaries have reinforced their positions along the border in recent months, hindering aid work, the report said. If either the north or the south does not accept the results of the January 9 referendum, the result could be a "war-like" situation, it said.

"A deterioration of the north-south relationship, as well as tensions within northern and southern Sudan could lead to large-scale outflow of people to neighbouring countries," said the UN's humanitarian contingency plan, stamped "Not for wider distribution".

The north and south ended a 20-year-plus civil war with the signing of a 2005 peace accord that also guaranteed the south the right to hold an independence referendum. Some two million people died in the war, which left southerners scarred and suspicious of Khartoum's Muslim Arab rulers.

In Sudan's capital Khartoum, the leaders of Egypt and Libya met Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and southern Sudanese president Salva Kiir to discuss the future of Sudan after the vote.

If worst-case violence scenarios play out after January, the UN plan anticipates an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced people within Sudan and an additional 3.2 million people who may be affected by a breakdown in trade and social services.

The hardest hit populations would be those living along Sudan's disputed and militarised 1,300-mile north-south border, as well as an estimated 800,000 southerners living in and around Khartoum who would "flee or (be) forced to move to southern Sudan as a result of violence and insecurity".

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