1. The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 8 of Security Council resolution 2575 (2021), in which the Council requested to be informed of progress in implementing the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) as set out in paragraph 33 of resolution 2550 (2020). It covers the period since the issuance of the previous report (S/2021/383) of the Secretary-General, from 16 April 2021 to 15 October 2021. The report provides updates on, inter alia, political developments and intercommunal dynamics, the security and humanitarian situation; developments affecting UNISFA support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism; and interactions with the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan in relation to the implementation of the mission’s mandate.
2. During the reporting period, the Sudan and South Sudan continued to deepen and strengthen their relations, as evidenced by the summit between the Prime Minister of the Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, and the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, which was held in Juba from 19 to 21 August 2021. The two leaders agreed, inter alia, on the temporary reopening of border crossing corridors on 1 October 2021 and on the establishment of free trade zones along the border.
3. On 8 and 9 September 2021, a meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism was held in Juba, with the Ministers of Defence of the Sudan and South Sudan as Co-Chairs. It was the first meeting of the Mechanism since October 2020. In its outcome document, the Joint Political and Security Mechanism requested South Sudan to urgently address the restrictions to freedom of movement of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism imposed by the local communities of Aweil North County, and to reoperationalize team sites 11 and 12, from which the UNISFA/Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism had been forced to temporarily relocate in August 2021 (see sect. III below). The Joint Political and Security Mechanism welcomed and adopted the recommendations contained in the UNISFA/Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism presentation and reiterated the need to act on previous decisions, including the request that the respective presidencies consider the matters referred to them following the meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism held in February and October 2020. Furthermore, the Joint Political and Security Mechanism urged the parties to resume the meetings of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, which had not convened since late 2017.
4. The mission leadership continued to engage with the Sudanese and South Sudanese authorities. On 20 May 2021, the acting Head of Mission met, in Khartoum, with the Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss operational challenges faced by the mission as well as the need to resume the meetings of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. In Juba, from 26 to 29 July 2021, he met with the Minister of Defence, the Presidential Adviser for National Security, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Co-Chair of the Committee. He returned to Khartoum from 1 to 5 August 2021 and met with the Sudanese Co-Chair of the Committee, but was unable to meet with other interlocutors, despite earlier assurances by the Sudanese authorities that meetings would be arranged. In both capitals, the acting Head of Mission discussed a series of key measures that were required to support mandate implementation. In Khartoum, the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission, the operationalization of the Athony airstrip, the issuance of visas for the three formed police units and the full complement of individual police officers were discussed. No progress was made.
5. From 16 to 21 September, the acting Head of Mission returned to Juba to seek support from Government authorities to dissuade local community representatives in Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism Sector 1 from demanding the withdrawal of UNISFA/Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism from Gok Machar or impeding its freedom of movement. In spite of reassurances by the authorities, there was no improvement and on 25 September 2021, the acting Head of Mission informed the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan, and the community of northern Aweil, that the Mechanism would be temporarily withdrawing from Gok Machar.
6. From 8 to 9 September 2021, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, together with the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, visited Abyei to appraise the situation on the ground. The Under-Secretary-General also visited Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Juba. In Juba, he expressed concern about the situation in Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism Sector 1 (Gok Machar).
7. From 9 to 15 August 2021, UNISFA provided logistical support for a field visit to Abyei by the South Sudanese national committee on the final status of Abyei, which was established by the President of South Sudan in May 2021. In a related development, on 12 August 2021, the Chair of the Sovereign Council of the Sudan appointed a 19-member national committee on Abyei, to be led by his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
8. On 9 August 2021, the Juba-appointed Chief Administrator in Abyei town replaced the deputy Chief Administrator before the end of his term. A spokesperson of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) criticized the decision to replace the deputy Chief Administrator, labelling it an act of “unilateral and illegal formation of the Abyei government”. The Juba-appointed Chief Administrator also replaced one of the traditional chiefs on 5 August 2021.