Sudan, South Sudan Must Make Greater Progress on Status of Abyei, Given Their Increased Cooperation, Under Secretary General Tells Security Council
24 OCTOBER 2019
8644TH MEETING (AM)
Permanent Representatives Both Urge November Renewal of Security Force’s Mandate Given the increased cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan on a host of issues, it is time for the parties to finally make progress on the status of the disputed area of Abyei, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations told the Security Council today.
“We witness an unprecedented opportunity to resolve the border‑related issues between Sudan and South Sudan,” Jean‑Pierre Lacroix informed the 15‑nation organ in a briefing ahead of the mandate renewal of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
Positive momentum is being driven by reciprocal visits of the leaders of both countries as well as support for each other’s peace processes, he said. Nonetheless, no progress has been made in settling the final status of Abyei. That lack of progress in joint policing in the areas — which has experienced increased criminality and presence of armed elements — is concerning.
Recalling recent reviews of UNISFA’s capacity to implement its mandate and support the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, he underlined the importance of the Mechanism as a monitoring and confidence‑building measure between the parties. However, its effectiveness required the two countries to implement the outcomes of the border management discussions.
Presenting recommendations for the reconfiguration of UNISFA, he pointed to a need to improve capabilities in intelligence, protection, engineering and medical capacity and civilian expertise. While stating his preference for a delayed reduction of troops until April 2020, he also welcomed the planned deployment of United Nations police by January 2020.
He described recommendations for the deployment of political, justice and civil affairs expertise as well. As for the request from the Council to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission for UNISFA, he reported that Sudan maintains its objection that it would be inconsistent with existing agreements.
He added that he is continuing to work with the African Union in support of the immediate resumption of direct talks between Sudan and South Sudan to resolve the final status of Abyei and other border issues. In the meantime, he called on the Council to extend the mandate of UNISFA and its support for the Monitoring Mechanism, thus sending a strong signal to the parties that the United Nations remains committed to maintaining stability in the area.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, briefed via video teleconference from Addis Ababa, also welcoming the heightened cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan following the changes in the latter’s Government. “With this new partnership in place, the past five months have seen a flurry of high‑level visits between Khartoum and Juba,” he said, recounting the progression of mutual support for the countries’ respective peace processes.
The September meeting in Juba between the new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok of Sudan, and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan was a first step towards finding a solution for Abyei, he said. That meeting tackled a wide range of issues that remain unresolved between the two countries, including oil arrangements. The talks broached the opening of additional border crossing points, the redeployment of forces from the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone and the full deployment of the Monitoring Mechanism.
Council members affirmed support for the role of UNISFA in providing protection and stability in Abyei and in supporting the Monitoring Mechanism. In that context, they also agreed on the need to consider the most effective reconfiguration of the Mission to fulfil that role. However, most stressed that it is, ultimately, the responsibility of the parties to ensure security and to settle outstanding issues regarding the final status of the area.
In that regard, Poland’s representative pointed to a lack of cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan on border issues, which is resulting in solidifying an administrative vacuum. Along with other speakers, she urged them to end the delay in addressing all outstanding issues.
Kuwait’s representative, however, saw the developing cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan as a priority and called for the Security Council to exhibit patience to allow them to further develop their relationship in order to resolve all outstanding issues.
Sudan’s representative also urged international support for the efforts of the two countries to assist one another. He asked the Council to consider all positive developments when it takes up the extension of UNISFA’s mandate in November.
South Sudan’s representative affirmed her country’s support for UNISFA, as well, urging the extension of its presence beyond its current areas of operation in order to allow the civil population to return.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, France, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Germany, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom, Peru and South Africa.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:31 a.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, reporting on the latest developments concerning the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), said that continued partnerships between Sudan and South Sudan present a unique opportunity to move the political process forward on border issues. He pointed to recent reciprocal visits of President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit, and Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok to their respective capitals and reciprocal support for peace processes in each country, among other positive developments. With respect to border arrangements, he said that the two countries convened two sessions of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism in which they reaffirmed their commitment of the implementation of the 27 September 2012 Agreement as well as to the withdrawal of all forces.
On the other hand, no progress has been made in settling the final status of Abyei, he said. While the Government of Sudan has indicated willingness to participate in joint planning for the establishment of the Abyei Police Service, South Sudan has not responded to that initiative. The current community protection mechanism does not have the capacity to address the fragile security situation in Abyei, which is characterized by increased criminality and presence of armed elements, he said.
Noting recent reviews of UNISFA’s capacity to implement its mandate and support the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, he welcomed the decision of the Security Council for a technical rollover of that support until 15 November. He underlined the importance of the Mechanism as a monitoring and confidence‑building measure between the parties and pledged to take all efforts to ensure its full operating capability. However, for that to be ensured, the two countries must abide by their commitment to implement the outcomes of the border management discussions. On the reconfiguration of UNISFA, the reviews recommended that the Mission update its operational concept and improve intelligence and protection of civilians by upgrading mobility through night‑flying assets, enhance engineer and medical capacity and the deployment of personnel with appropriate skills.
Informed by these recommendations, he described the two options presented to the Council for reducing troop strength, noting his preference for the second option of delaying reduction of 295 troops until the end of the dry season in April 2020. In any event, he said, police presence will be strengthened by the deployment of at least one formed police unit and 140 individual police officers by January 2020. He described recommendations for the deployment of political, justice and civil affairs expertise as well. As for the request from the Council to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission for UNISFA, he said that Sudan maintains its objection that it would be inconsistent with the 20 June 2011 Agreement on temporary arrangements for the administration and security of the Abyei Area.
“We witness an unprecedented opportunity to resolve the border‑related issues between Sudan and South Sudan,” he said. Building upon recent positive developments in bilateral relations, the two sides need to resume direct talks immediately to resolve the final status of Abyei and other border issues. He would continue to work with the African Union in support of a political process for that purpose. In the meantime, UNISFA and the Monitoring Mechanism have a key role to play. The Secretary‑General has recommended to augment the capacity of UNISFA to engage in local mediation, support dialogue between the parties and fulfil protection‑related tasks, thus sending a strong signal to the parties that the United Nations remains committed to maintaining stability in the area. He requested the Security Council to support those recommendations and extend the mandate of UNISFA and its support to the Monitoring Mechanism by an additional six months.
PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Horn of Africa, briefed the Council via video teleconference from Addis Ababa, saying that the recent change in Sudan’s Government has sparked an improvement in relations between that country and South Sudan. At the urging of South Sudan’s new Government, President Kiir intensified his mediation efforts between Khartoum and Sudanese armed groups. “With this new partnership in place, the past five months have seen a flurry of high‑level visits between Khartoum and Juba,” he said, recalling that leaders of the Transitional Military Council visited South Sudan in July and again in September.
Meanwhile, Juba hosted talks with and between the armed movements from Darfur and the “Two Areas”, namely Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, he continued. Those resulted in the Darfuri armed groups — minus the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Abdul Wahid al‑Nur and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM‑North) — uniting under the umbrella of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front. The mediation initiative culminated in the signing of the Juba Declaration on Confidence‑Building Measures and Preparation for Negotiation on 11 September between the Sudanese armed movements and the Sudanese Sovereign Council.
He went on to say that, following that agreement, the head of SPLM‑North made a gesture of good faith by renewing the group’s unilateral ceasefire for another three months and expressing his readiness to join future rounds of negotiations in Juba. So far, the Sudanese opposition appears comfortable with President Kiir facilitating their negotiations with Khartoum. Several other countries have also expressed interest in hosting future phases of those talks, which are expected to continue until 14 December. On 21 October, the Sovereign Council and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front signed an initial agreement renewing the cessation of hostilities and opening humanitarian access from within and outside Sudan to areas held by armed groups. “This marks significant progress, as previous peace negotiations […] have consistently stumbled on the issues of humanitarian access,” he said.
The next round of talks is expected to focus on, among other things, a permanent ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian assistance, the opening of political space and the return of refugees, he noted. The new Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, visited Juba in September to meet with President Kiir on such issues as the peace processes in both countries, trade, oil, border issues and the free movement of people. Consistent with his vision for peace and reform, Prime Minister Hamdok stated his desire to use the visit to repair damage caused by the former regime in Khartoum and restore traditional ties between “one people living in two States”. The meeting was a first step towards finding a solution on the disputed border area of Abyei.
The list of pending issues between Khartoum and Juba remains long, he observed, pointing out that most of the commitments agreed in 2012 have yet to be implemented. One exception is the agreement on oil, under which South Sudan has so far paid Sudan some $2.4 billion of the $3.02 billion agreed upon in 2012 under the Transitional Financial Agreement. South Sudan has indicated that it intends to ask Khartoum for an extension of the December 2019 deadline to complete that payment. At the same time, the Joint Security Committee led by the Army Chiefs of Staff of the two countries met in Juba and discussed several pending issues, including the opening of additional border crossing points, the redeployment of forces from the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone and the full deployment of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said resolving Abyei’s status is a requirement for bringing peace and stability to Sudan and South Sudan. In that context, he expressed concern that not only is UNISFA still being prohibited from carrying out its mandate in full, but that violence and cattle rustling in the area is still continuing. He called on the parties to allow the Mission to function fully — including by granting visas to United Nations police personnel and appointing a civilian deputy head of Mission – while voicing support for ongoing efforts to restore peace and stability in the region.
ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France) welcomed the recent decision by the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan to strengthen bilateral relations, including over their shared border. Welcoming the 2 October meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, he encouraged the Council and the African Union to lend their full support to such efforts. Urging the Sudanese authorities to authorize the deployment of the peace contingents agreed by the Council in 2018, he said they will help prevent crime and reduce intercommunal tensions. Meanwhile, South Sudan should cooperate in good faith with the establishment of the Abyei police force. France also supports the deployment of a political section within UNISFA, including a civilian deputy head of the Mission, which will help reduce tensions and strengthen the Mission’s relationship with the African Union.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), wishing every success to the new Sudanese authorities and calling on stakeholders in South Sudan to make progress on their peace process, said that settling the situation in Abyei is tied to progress in both countries. Expressing concern over the security situation in Abyei, she stressed that support of UNISFA is still needed. Dialogue must be encouraged for the two countries to settle final status issues so that the matter does not become another frozen conflict. Calling for support to all agreed‑upon mechanisms in the area, she said that there is no option other than dialogue for further progress. The role of UNISFA remains crucial. In that context, the Mission must receive the resources it needs to fulfil its mandate.
Ms. BATISTA (Dominican Republic) said that, in light of the fragile security situation in Abyei, it is critical that UNISFA retain its rapid response and civilian protection capacity. Because the deployment of police is important in that context, it is crucial to ensure the rapid issuance of visas. She also asserted the importance of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and welcomed UNISFA’s support for that Mechanism and for women’s participation in all processes in the area. She called on Sudan and South Sudan to do more to resolve the situation and for UNISFA’s operations to be adjusted for maximum effectiveness.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed the improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan, stating they open the door to lasting peace. He called for further initiatives in that vein. He also expressed concern over the lack of progress made in the political process for Abyei. The two countries must be encouraged to conduct dialogue for that purpose. The authorities of both countries must take urgent action to improve security, including the establishment of a joint police force and facilitation of deployment of United Nations police units. Welcoming development and peacebuilding initiatives in the area, he called for adjustments in the UNISFA mandate to adapt to the current situation. He also urged all actors to take advantage of the positive momentum to work for lasting peace in the region.
YAO SHAOJUN (China), while welcoming progress made between Sudan and South Sudan, said that cooperation between the countries must be further encouraged to settle outstanding issues, with full respect to the leadership of those countries on the matter. International support should continue with capacity‑building in the region and with UNISFA’s role. In addition, in considering the reconfiguration of the Mission, the perspective of all stakeholders should be taken into account, he stated, adding he pledged his country’s continued support for peace in the region.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) noted that the security situation in Abyei remains volatile, characterized by increased criminality and the sporadic presence of armed elements. The United Nations must continue encouraging Sudan and South Sudan to accelerate discussion on outstanding issues, as progress to implement the Agreement of 20 June 2011, especially the formation of joint interim institutions, has been limited. Moreover, the two nations have been unable to achieve benchmarks laid down in Security Council resolution 2465 (2019), including complete withdrawal from the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone. He advised caution with UNISFA’s reconfiguration, which must consider domestic political challenges in Sudan as well as South Sudan and build on positive bilateral relations. The reconfiguration must enable the Mission to effectively respond to challenges on the ground, matching them with appropriate personnel and capability support.
ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) said making headway towards stability requires joint efforts by Sudan and South Sudan, including implementing the full package of agreements signed in 2012. Welcoming the substantial contributions of Khartoum and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to South Sudan’s peace process, he urged the parties to harness the recent positive bilateral momentum to resolve the situation in Abyei. He also called on the United Nations to support those efforts, describing the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism as an essential tool; ending UNISFA’s support for it could have a serious impact on efforts to resolve the final status of Abyei. More broadly, the Mission’s continued presence remains critical, he stressed, adding his support for the recommendation to extend UNISFA’s mandate, as well as its support to the Monitoring Mechanism, for another six months.
MATHIAS LICHARZ (Germany) joined others in welcoming recent political progress, but expressed his concern that it has not yet translated into a concrete resolution of the situation in Abyei. Calling on Sudan and South Sudan to work towards such an agreement — which must be made by them, and not by the international community — he echoed support for the recommendation to extend the mandate of UNISFA and its Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism for another six months. However, it should be calibrated to respond to the changing situation on the ground and focus on rising crime rates; mediation and dialogue; and support for the work of the African Union Commission’s High‑level Implementation Panel. Meanwhile, there is an urgent need to strengthen UNISFA’s police component. Nothing with concern that the expansion of the Mission’s police personnel — agreed in 2018 — has yet to be implemented, he urged Sudan to extend visas to all those personnel. Among other priorities, he said the Mission’s mandate should cover the effective monitoring of human rights, including such violations as gender‑based violence.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), noting that the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism remains a critical tool for UNISFA, welcomed efforts by the parties to “reset their relationship and pave the way for a brighter future for both countries”. She praised Prime Minister Hamdok’s recent visit to Juba and the parties’ focus on borders and trade, adding that efforts to restore ties between the communities living along the border is a positive first step towards resolving the Abyei issue. Urging the Council to seize that momentum, she nevertheless voiced concern about the still‑turbulent and fragile situation in that border region, as well as sporadic incursions by armed groups, widespread poverty and unemployment. “This should add weight to the continue important role […] that UNISFA and the [Monitoring Mechanism] must continue to play along the border of the two countries,” she stressed, calling on the parties to set aside their differences on that matter, accept the proposed “flexible borders” concept and bring the long‑standing stalemate on Abyei to an end.
BADER A. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), expressing support for UNISFA and condemning attacks on its peacekeepers, welcomed the opportunity to ensure that UNISFA’s mandate is best suited for its situation. He expressed hope that cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan on border issues will continue to grow and become a symbol of mutually beneficial initiatives between the two countries. In that context, the Security Council should show patience to enable the countries to make further progress in establishing institutions in Abyei and resolve outstanding issues. His country will do all it can to support such progress, he pledged.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom), welcoming cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan, called on the two countries to seize the opportunity to consolidate peace in all areas. He stressed that strengthened dialogue is key to resolving outstanding issues in Abyei and called for the renewed agreement on the withdrawal of all forces be immediately implemented, along with humanitarian access facilitated throughout the area. Acknowledging the challenges faced by UNISFA in its operations, he condemned all attacks on Mission personnel and called for an end to bureaucratic obstacles. The Mission plays a vital role, he stressed, adding that it must be rendered as effective as possible and receive adequate resourcing.
VERÓNIKA BUSTAMANTE (Peru), applauding the positive political momentum between Sudan and South Sudan, said she hoped that it will continue and enable a full settlement in Abyei. However, the two countries bear the chief responsibility in resolving their border issues. Expressing concern that women continue to be underrepresented in decision‑making, she welcomed initiatives to address that problem as well as those in security and other areas. She also underlined the urgency of the establishment of the Abyei Police Service and deployment of United Nations police support. She urged the international community to continue to support development projects and humanitarian aid. Calling on the parties to take concrete and tangible steps to pave the way to a comprehensive agreement, she supported the extension of UNISFA’s mandate as well as its reconfiguration for effectiveness and better support for political progress.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), while highlighting the encouraging bilateral developments between Sudan and South Sudan, nevertheless noted with regret that very little progress has been made on issues of border demarcation and the final status of Abyei. “We are concerned that the lack of genuine cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan solidifies the administrative vacuum which exists in Abyei,” he said. The security situation remains fragile, with criminality on the rise. The absence of effective formal authorities in Abyei is resulting in limited law enforcement and lack of good governance or the rule of law. “Every peacekeeping mission needs to adapt to changing realities on the ground,” he said, adding it is regrettable that the agreed increase in the Mission’s police personnel has yet to be implemented. Calling on Sudan to facilitate that reconfiguration, he advocated for a renewal of UNISFA’s mandate for another six months and for strengthening its political posture, as well as its capacity to support the Abyei political process.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, expressing hope that Sudan and South Sudan can maintain the momentum needed for peace, stability and economic development. As such, he welcomed South Sudan’s efforts in hosting peace talks for Sudan and armed groups last week. He welcomed the Council’s decision to renew support provided by UNISFA to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, expressing appreciation for the stabilizing role both continue to play. The Abyei area is critically and strategically important for both countries and has the potential to be a destabilizing point if not closely monitored. In this context, he encouraged both countries to resume talks to implement their agreements on border issues and work towards meeting benchmarks previously set by the Council.
YASIR ABDELSALAM AHMED (Sudan), expressing his Government’s support for UNISFA and its commitment to ensuring the Mission’s effective functioning, said the Agreement of 20 June 2011 remains the basis for negotiations on the final status of that border region. By its terms, no changes may be made without the agreement of the three signatories, namely Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Noting that UNISFA is an interim force that exists on sovereign Sudanese soil, he pointed out that the Council is meeting against the backdrop of major positive shifts in relations between his Government and that of South Sudan.
Those countries’ efforts to assist one another in achieving peace and security must be supported, he stressed, recalling that recent meetings between the parties have addressed address pending issues related to Abyei. In early October, for example, representatives of Khartoum and Juba met to discuss measures to establish joint administrative mechanisms in Abyei, and to evacuate both countries’ troops from the demilitarized zone. The Joint Border Commission also held a meeting, resulting in the signing of a full description of the border areas agreed by the two countries. He urged the Council to consider those positive developments when it takes up the extension of UNISFA’s mandate in November.
CELIA ADENG (South Sudan) urged that UNISFA’s presence be extended beyond current areas of operations in the Abyei box in order to allow the civil population to return. In addition, the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission will enhance ongoing efforts of reconciliation and development by the local chiefs and the people of Abyei.
Turning to visa issuance, she recalled that, according to the status of the force agreement signed by the United Nations, Sudan and South Sudan in 2012, both countries can issue visas. As such, South Sudan is ready to issue entry visas for those who need to enter Abyei. Taking note of the tireless efforts of Ethiopia, United Nations, African Union High‑level Implementation Panel and Sudan for the collaboration and support of UNIFSA and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism mandates, she said her Government is fully engaged in the implementation of the mandate.
For information media. Not an official record.