By Megan Davies
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A day before the split of Africa's largest nation, the U.N. Security Council voted on Friday to establish a force of up to 7,000 peacekeepers for poor, conflict-ravaged but oil-producing South Sudan.
The unanimous action occurred six years after a 2005 peace deal ended years of war. But the vote also came amid growing fears about conflict in volatile border regions.
The new mission, called UNMISS, calls for up to 7,000 U.N. peacekeepers and an additional 900 civilian police for South Sudan.
"This is a strong signal of support to the new South Sudan," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told reporters.
Wittig, who is U.N. Security Council president for July, said the significant size of the new mission was a "substantial contribution to the security challenges facing South Sudan".
But Khartoum has made clear it is against a continuing U.N. peacekeeping presence. That has raised concerns about what will happen to strife-torn Southern Kordofan region and other areas when the U.N.'s existing UNMIS mandate ends on Saturday.
The UNMIS mission, which monitors compliance with the 2005 north-south peace deal, had a mandate to run until the south's secession on July 9.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said a week ago that unless decided otherwise, U.N. peacekeepers will have to cease operations in the Southern Kordofan region as of July 9.
The "liquidation" of UNMIS will start on Saturday, U.N.'s special envoy to Sudan, Haile Menkerios, said on Thursday.
That means about 3,000 peacekeepers would be redeployed from the northern parts of Sudan, spokesman for U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations Michel Bonnardeaux has said.
There have been calls to keep a peacekeeping presence in volatile areas in order to protect civilians.
"I have urged the Government of Sudan for technical and practical reasons for an extension of the mandate of the United Nations in Sudan, at least until the situation (in Southern Kordofan) calms down. We can not afford to have any gaps," Ban told journalists at Sudan's foreign ministry in Khartoum.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said in a speech on Thursday that the U.S. was "extremely concerned by the government's decision to compel the departure of the U.N. mission in Sudan from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and elsewhere in the North."
Wittig said that UNMIS was not the subject of Friday's Security Council consideration, when asked about the future of the peacekeeping force.
Sudan is Africa's largest country by area.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)