1. The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 33 of Security Council resolution 2550 (2020), 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/2020/1019), from 16 October 2020 to 15 April 2021. The report provides updates on, inter alia, political developments and intercommunal dynamics, the security context, the humanitarian situation and UNISFA assistance to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and on interactions with the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan in relation to the implementation of the mission’s mandate.
2. The reporting period was marked by a continued rapprochement between the Sudan and South Sudan. On 23 November 2020, the Minister for East African Affairs of South Sudan, Deng Alor, met in Khartoum with Hassan Sheikh Idris Qadi, a member of the Transitional Sovereign Council, to discuss the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement of 3 October 2020, as well as the question of Abyei. On 25 February 2021, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Sudan, Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, chose to go to Juba as her first visit upon assuming her duties in the new cabinet of the Government of the Sudan. However, the détente has yet to positively impact the situation in Abyei.
3. Despite logistical constraints linked to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, UNISFA has remained fully engaged with the Governments of both the Sudan and South Sudan. The acting Head of Mission/Force Commander visited Khartoum to take part in the Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting hosted by the Government of the Sudan on 28 and 29 October 2020. The meeting was the first since the meeting hosted by the Government of South Sudan in February 2020, during which a number of important matters were agreed upon, including the establishment of checkpoints in Abyei, the introduction of search and seize operations, the deployment of joint military observer teams throughout the Abyei Area, the need for regular meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism and of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee and the need for progress on Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and border-related benchmarks (see Security Council resolution 2550 (2020), para. 3). During the meeting, the parties recommended that “the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee resumes regular meetings within two weeks … and urge it to hold at least one session before the next Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting slated for 15 January 2021”. The African Union Peace and Security Council welcomed the outcomes of the meeting and called for the Facilitator of the Committee to initiate consultations with the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan with a view to agreeing on modalities for the reconvening of the Committee, as soon as possible. The African Union Peace and Security Council held a meeting on the situation in Abyei on 24 November 2020, and subsequently issued a communiqué calling for community reconciliation following the tensions after the killing of Chief Kuol Deng Kuol of the Ngok Dinka.
4. The acting Head of Mission returned to Khartoum again in late 2020 and early 2021, when he had the opportunity to discuss with senior officials ways to move the Abyei peace process forward, including through support for inter-community peace talks. The appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission was also discussed, but little progress was made in that regard, or regarding the operationalization of the Athony airstrip and the issuance of visas for the three formed police units and the full complement of individual police officers.
5. On 23 November 2020, the acting Head of Mission, together with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, briefed the African Union Peace and Security Council on the situation in Abyei. The former highlighted the need for enhanced engagement at the political level on the question of Abyei as a way to mitigate rising inter-community tensions in the area.
6. On 28 March 2021, the Khartoum-appointed Chief Administrator arrived in Diffra. The mission interacted with him on 31 March and encouraged his own interaction and coordination with the Juba-appointed Chief Administrator based in Abyei town.