- The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 33 of Security Council resolution 2497 (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). It covers the period since the issuance of my previous report (S/2019/817), from 16 October 2019 to 15 April 2020. The report provides updates on, inter ali a, political developments, the security situation, the operating environment, the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, intercommunal dynamics, human rights monitoring, mission performance, progress made on the reconfiguration of the mission, and the participation of women in all aspects of operations.
The reporting period saw significant political developments both in the Sudan and in South Sudan. Both countries are in the midst of political transitions. In South Sudan, some progress was made in the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan with the announcement of the cabinet of South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, while in the Sudan, the Sovereign Council and the transitional Government undertook extensive talks to overcome internal divisions and facilitate the transition. UNISFA welcomed the developments and supported them by ensuring the Abyei Area remained stable and secure. UNISFA leadership continued to engage with the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan in order to facilitate the implementation of the pending aspects of their previous agreements and the UNISFA mandate. UNISFA leadership focused its interactions with government interlocutors at the highest level on matters related to security and the protection of civilians, as well as on challenges, including armed attacks, and proposed mitigation measures that would require the support and approval of the respective Governments.
In Khartoum, UNISFA leadership met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Asma Mohamed Abdalla on 13 November 2019. On 2 December, it met separately with the first Vice-President of the Sovereign Council, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and Abyei Joint Oversight Committee Co-Chair (Sudan), Ahmad Salih Saluhah; and on 29 December, it met separately with the Prime Minister of the Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, and the Minister of Defence, Lieutenant General Jamal Omar. During the interactions, UNISFA leadership underscored the need to facilitate the deployment of the authorized additional United Nations police and formed police units, to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission and to operationalize the Athony airstrip to reduce UNISFA transport costs and logistical challenges. The Prime Minister, as well as the Vice-President of the Sovereign Council, advised that a task force with relevant Government officials would study the concerns and revert in due course. UNISFA leadership also presented its plans to readjust its deployment, establish checkpoints and reactivate the Joint Military Observation Committee and joint military observer teams, in order to curb incidents of violence, including those perpetrated by armed groups. UNISFA leadership also discussed these matters on 13 January 2020 in Juba with a South Sudanese delegation led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Sudan, Awut Deng Acuil, and the Minister of Defence, Kuol Manyang Juuk.
In consultation with relevant officials in Khartoum and Juba, UNISFA drafted the agenda for a joint meeting, which was held in Juba under the auspices of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism on 19 February, a few weeks after the attacks in the Nainai-Kolom area on 19 and 22 January, during which 36 civilians were killed.
During the meeting, which included members of the Mechanism and representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Defense of both countries and representatives of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, progress was made on a number of issues, including the establishment of checkpoints, the introduction of “search and seize” operations and the deployment of joint military observer teams through the Abyei Area. Both parties, in their outcome document, urged the Committee to resume regular meetings. Other matters that UNISFA included on the agenda, such as the use of Athony airstrip, the formalization of protocol regarding the handover of suspects with UNISFA, the issue of Diffra oil police and the establishment of a joint investigation team into the Nainai-Kolom armed attack, were taken on board by both parties. However, it was decided to refer these matters to their respective presidencies for further consideration.
On 5 March, UNISFA invited both parties to attend a consultative meeting with Abyei Joint Oversight Committee stakeholders in Khartoum on 24 March as part of its efforts to maintain necessary engagement with and between the parties, to update the parties on urgent security matters and to consider practical measures for the revitalization of the Committee. In the light of the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the proposed meeting had to be postponed, alongside the meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism that was slated to be held in Khartoum on 25 March.
At the local level, in order to address heightened intercommunity tensions in Abyei, the most recent incidents of which were the Nainai-Kolom attacks of 19 and 22 January, UNISFA leadership engaged with the administrative and traditional leaders as well as with the joint community peace committee, which brings together representatives of the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya every week. UNISFA briefed them on security developments within the Abyei Area, including those related to the seasonal migration, on mitigation measures that UNISFA intended to put in place to curb violence, and on the episodic presence of armed groups within the UNISFA area of responsibility. UNISFA also informed community representatives of discussions held in both Khartoum and Juba and the outcomes of the 19 February meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting held in Juba and urged both sides to maintain constructive dialogue.
To drive the local peace processes forward in the migration season, UNISFA proposed to convene a traditional leaders’ conference. While interlocuters in the capitals and within the Abyei Area agreed in principle, the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee Co-Chair (Sudan) expressed reservations regarding timing and the composition of the delegations. This notwithstanding, the conference, comprising both Ngok Dinka and Misseriya traditional leaders, including the Paramount Chiefs, Bulabek Deng Kuol and Nazar Mukhtar Babo Nimr, was held in Diffra, Sector North, on 16 March. The two sides acknowledged the need for peace and agreed to preserve the status quo until a follow-up meeting on 1 April, which was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The follow-up meeting was held in Diffra on 9 April, but no agreement was reached on the southern migration of the pastoralists. These meetings were a relative success in that they brought together the traditional leaders of the two sides in the aftermath of the Kolom incident. They were also the first meetings in t hat format since November 2017, when the leaders met in Addis Ababa during the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee meeting held there.