- The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 34 of Security Council resolution 2469 (2019), in which the Council requested to be informed of progress in implementing the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), including a transition strategy that would allow for an eventual exit for the mission. It covers the period since the issuance of my previous report (S/2019/319), from 16 April to 15 October 2019. The report provides updates on, inter alia, political developments, the security situation, the operating environment, intercommunal dynamics and progress made on the reconfiguration of the mission, as well as recommendations for further revisions. The report also follows up on my letter of 20 September 2019 (S/2019/768) on progress in the implementation of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.
Political developments in the Sudan and South Sudan during the reporting period have had an impact on the context in which UNISFA operates in the Abyei Area. In Khartoum, the assumption of power by the Transitional Military Council in April 2019 resulted in the decision of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on 6 June 2019 to suspend the Sudan from all activities of the African Union, until the formation of a civilian-led Government. Subsequent negotiations with the Forces for Freedom and Change, facilitated by the African Union and Ethiopia, concluded in August 2019. On 5 September, a transitional Government was announced, and the Peace and Security Council decided to lift the suspension of the Sudan from all African Union activities the next day, before the transitional Government was sworn in on 8 September. Meanwhile, in Juba, further delays hindered the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.
While both countries undergo their respective transitions, their partnership has remained strong. The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, attended the signing ceremony for the political and constitutional declarations in Khartoum on 17 August 2019, marking the beginning of the transitional rule in the Sudan. In addition, and in support of the peace process in the Sudan, Mr. Kiir hosted talks in Juba in September between the transitional Government in Khartoum and a number of Sudanese armed groups. Meanwhile, the Sudanese authorities, as guarantors of the peace process for South Sudan, facilitated the visit to Juba of Riek Machar on 9 September 2019. The Prime Minister of the Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, also conducted a visit of significant importance to Juba on 12 September 2019, during which he discussed with Mr. Kiir ways to enhance bilateral relations, including on borders and trade. Mr. Hamdok stated that he wanted to restore relations between people on the border as the first step towards the resolution of the border zone disputes. While the continued rapprochement between the two countries is encouraging, it is too soon to witness its effects on the situation in the Abyei Area.
In that regard, little progress was made by the parties on the issues of border demarcation and on the process leading to a final status of Abyei. In particular, the establishment of joint institutions in the Abyei Area, as foreseen in the Agreement of 20 June 2011, remained a challenge, notwithstanding continued advocacy by UNISFA with the parties to convene meetings of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. UNISFA also called for the timely resumption of meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism. Owing to the temporary suspension of the Sudan by the Pe ace and Security Council of the African Union, the African Union High-level Implementation Panel was unable to operate. However, the Joint Political and Security Mechanism met in Juba on 2 October 2019.
UNISFA leadership met regularly with officials in Khartoum and Juba and with members of the diplomatic community on security and peace process-related matters, as well as on issues related to the full implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, including in relation to freedom of movement of UNISFA and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, in both Abyei and the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone. In meetings held in Khartoum with government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, and the Sudanese Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, on 23 and 24 April, on 15 and 16 July and on 1 September 2019, UNISFA reiterated the need to issue visas for United Nations individual police officers and formed police units to facilitate the deployment of police personnel, in accordance with the provisions of Security Council resolution 2469 (2019). Officials in Khartoum maintain that recommendations regarding a proposed increase in the number of police officers and the deployment of three formed police units are not consistent with the original intentions of the parties, as set out in the Agreement of 20 June 2011. The authorities continue to insist upon the need for progress towards the establishment of joint institutions in Abyei, including the Abyei Police Service, as provided for in the Agreement. Similarly, officials in Khartoum have maintained throughout their meetings with UNISFA that the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission and the enhancement of the civilian component of the mission, mandated in Council resolutions 2445 (2018) and 2469 (2019), would amount to a departure from the terms of the Agreement of 20 June 2011, in which the establishment of a mission with an interim security-related focus was foreseen. In addition, the request by UNISFA that the Government of the Sudan reconsider its position on its use of the Athony airstrip remained inconclusive. Unfortunately, this continues to undermine the mission’s logistical capabilities, including for medical evacuation and troop rotations.
In Juba, UNISFA leadership met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, the South Sudanese Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, the head of the Abyei file and representatives of the Ministry of Defence, including the Chief of Defence St aff, on 2 and 3 May, on 17 and 18 July and on 8 August 2019. UNISFA underscored the need to implement all aspects of the Agreement of 20 June 2011 related to the establishment of joint institutions in Abyei, including, as a first step, participation in the joint integrated planning exercise towards the establishment of the Abyei Police Service.
Officials in Juba observed that arriving at a final resolution of the Abyei question was their first priority and that, while the establishment of joint institutions might have been a useful way forward in 2011, the time for such a decision had long since lapsed. In that respect, the Government of South Sudan maintains that, in Security Council resolutions 2445 (2018) and 2469 (2019), as well as in the recommendation of the Secretary-General to the Council on 22 April 2018, the administration in Abyei appointed by the Government and the Misseriya administration in Muglad have been recognized, thereby taking precedence over the Agreement of 20 June 2011.
In both Khartoum and Juba, UNISFA leadership underscored the need for both parties to engage at a higher level in achieving a political resolution to o utstanding issues, as called for in paragraph 8 of Security Council resolution 2469 (2019), in which the Council requested, inter alia, an update by the African Union High-level Implementation Panel and my Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa on the proposal made by it in 2012 and on the implementation of all of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee decisions by 15 October 2019. These matters were also discussed in Addis Ababa with my Special Envoy on 24 May 2019 and with the Chief of Staff of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel on 27 May 2019.