Governments of Sudan, South Sudan Should Leverage Improved Bilateral Ties to Resolve Disputes over Strife-Torn Abyei Border Region, Speakers Tell Security Council
Top Officials Praise Relaunched Political Process, Climate of Mutual Trust, as Delegates Support Call to Extend United Nations Mission Mandate for Six Months
The Governments of Sudan and South Sudan should leverage their burgeoning bilateral rapprochement to make progress on the sensitive issue of the Abyei border region, Security Council members urged today, as senior officials outlined the latest progress and challenges on the ground.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said recent months have been characterized by enhanced collaboration between Sudan and South Sudan. On 3 October, a historic peace agreement was signed in Juba — and facilitated by South Sudan - between Sudan’s Transitional Government and a leading opposition group. The two countries also relaunched a political process, with senior officials meeting to discuss the final status of Abyei and nearby areas. These and other recent developments are outlined in the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the matter (document S/2020/1019).
While welcoming the rapprochement, he cautioned that little progress has been made on the issue of Abyei. Four recent attacks against United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) staff, and four instances of intercommunal violence, were recently recorded. He drew attention to delays in some of the Mission’s operations — including the mandated deployment of 640 police personnel — due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The police contingent stands at only 35 officers, which will inevitably lead to the closure of some of UNISFA’s team sites. Outlining efforts by the Mission and local non-governmental groups to combat the spread of the pandemic, he said no new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Abyei since July.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, briefed the Council on his just-concluded visit to Sudan, which featured fruitful consultations with Government officials. Noting that the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan continues to strengthen, he said the countries agreed to review all their 2012 cooperation agreements with immediate effect. Bilateral meetings on issues including Abyei were held in Khartoum in September, with an understanding that further talks will take place alternately in both countries. Outlining key elements of the 3 October Juba agreement, he said it covers issues related to governance, security arrangements, land ownership, transitional justice and the return of displaced persons.
“There is a strong will for making the Juba agreement a success,” he said, citing subsequent progress in relaunching commercial river transport and opening crossing points for the free movement of goods and services. Also welcoming the announcement by the United States on 20 October that it intends to remove Sudan from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, he said authorities in both Sudan and South Sudan are confident that outstanding bilateral issues — including the status of Abyei and the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States — will benefit from their new friendly ties and mutual trust.
Many Council members welcomed that sentiment, expressing their hope that the tide has turned away from violence and political mistrust in the region. However, some voiced concern that intercommunal clashes, as well as attacks on peacekeepers, continue unabated in Abyei. Some speakers echoed the Secretary‑General’s recommendation that the Council vote to renew UNISFA’s mandate for six months upon its expiration on 15 November, while several emphasized the need to enhance its work with a view towards an eventual exit.
Tunisia’s representative — who also spoke on behalf of Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — urged Sudan, South Sudan and the Council to capitalize on the current positive dynamism and ensure that peace ultimately extends to the Abyei area. He urged the two countries to continue to foster mutual trust with a view to fully implementing their cooperation agreements and reaching a positive-sum settlement to the final status of Abyei. He also joined other speakers in welcoming the senior-level visits held over the last two months in Juba and Khartoum, as well as the commitment demonstrated by both sides to reinvigorate the peace process.
The representative of the United States echoed those calls for continued progress amid a “drastic improvement” in relations between Sudan and South Sudan. However, he expressed concern that they slow issuance of visas, a lack of police officers and the closure of an important airstrip are undermining stability in Abyei. Looking forward to the Council’s renewal of UNISFA’s mandate, he nevertheless called on members to begin to consider a future that does not require a peacekeeping operation in Abyei. UNISFA’s indefinite operation, particularly with the restrictions placed on it, is untenable. He pledged that the United States will continue to work towards stability in the region, citing the removal of Sudan from its list of States Sponsors of Terrorism as a recognition of progress.
Germany’s representative also urged the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to take advantage of the current momentum — as well as the high level of confidence built between them — to address outstanding issues. While his delegation supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend UNIFSA’s mandate by six months, he warned that there should be no “business as usual”. The Council had sent a clear message that the Mission must adapt, as UNIFSA is not fit for purpose due to the host country’s obstructions. He urged Sudan to issue visas to the Mission’s police personnel, while underlining the need to strengthen its civilian components and deploy human rights experts.
The representative of Sudan told the Council that bilateral relations between his Government and that of South Sudan are indeed progressing steadily. Khartoum has voiced its commitment to resolving the issue of Abyei in that same spirit. Recalling that the 2011 agreement signed between Sudan and South Sudan provides for the creation of local mechanisms to administer the area, he declared: “Sudan has always been ready to adhere to the terms of that agreement.” Turning to UNISFA, he commended the work being carried out by its staff and condemned all attacks against them, while welcoming the mandate extension recommended by the Secretary-General and supported by many Council members.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Indonesia (also on behalf of Viet Nam), Estonia, Dominican Republic, France, Belgium and the Russian Federation.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the period under review, 16 April to 15 October, was characterized by enhanced collaboration between Sudan and South Sudan. On 3 October, a historic peace agreement was signed among the Transitional Government of the Sudan, the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the Sudan Liberation Movement–Minni Minnawi (SLM/MM) in Juba, as part of a facilitation process led by the South Sudanese authorities. The two countries also relaunched a political process, with senior officials from South Sudan travelling to Khartoum to meet with Sudanese authorities to discuss the final status of Abyei and border areas.
Despite that rapprochement — and the appointment, for the first time, of two chief administrators for the Abyei Administrative Area — he said there has been little progress on the issue of Abyei. The security situation in the area remains volatile, with four attacks against United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) personnel and four instances of intercommunal violence during the reporting period. UNISFA has continued to engage Ngok Dinka and Misseriya authorities and community leaders to further the local-level peace process. However, attacks at local villages in recent months have escalated tensions and negatively impacted those peace efforts. Minimal progress was also made on achieving the benchmarks laid out for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He recalled that, in resolution 2519 (2020), the Council mandated the deployment of 640 police personnel, including three formed police units of 160 members each and 160 police. Of the 35 police officers that currently comprise the United Nations police force, 16 are now finishing their two-year assignments. As no visas have been issued for new officers — due largely to travel restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — the strength of the police component will soon drop to 19 officers. “This situation will inevitably lead to the closure of some team sites in UNISFA, and will have a negative impact on the mandate implementation,” he said. The United Nations has requested visas and travel permits to Abyei for members of its reconnaissance team, but to date the Sudanese authorities have not yet granted them.
He went on to note that UNISFA has reported 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, as well as the suspected death of one female soldier. A meeting of the Abyei Health Cluster for COVID-19 was recently attended by UNISFA and the non-governmental groups GOAL and Save the Children. During the meeting, it was reported that 2,702 people have been screened within the Abyei area and the cumulative number of confirmed cases since the outbreak of the pandemic is 52, included 5 deaths. No new positive cases have been recorded in that area since July. Despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic, UNISFA continues to engage with the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to facilitate the implementation of pending agreements. In that regard, he called on the Council to extend the Mission’s mandate for a further six months, until 15 May 2021.
PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, said that, with the reopening of airports, he was able to visit Sudan from 13 to 16 October, holding fruitful consultations with Government officials, including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. A projected visit to South Sudan could not take place before this briefing, but he spoke with Deng Alor, that country’s Minister for East African Affairs, who is responsible for the Abyei file. The relationship between Sudan and South Sudan continues to strengthen. At the beginning of September, the countries agreed to review all their 2012 cooperation agreements with immediate effect, and after a 2 September meeting, South Sudan dispatched a high-level mission to Khartoum to initiate bilateral discussions, including on Abyei. While neither party disclosed the outcomes, there was an understanding that further talks on Abyei would take place alternately in both countries. In this regard, he recognized UNISFA’s pivotal role in maintaining stability in Abyei.
He said the 3 October signing in Juba of the peace agreement was the culmination of a peace process launched in Juba in October 2019 under the auspices of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is also its guarantor, alongside President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad. The accord covers key region-specific and national issues related to governance, security arrangements, land ownership, transitional justice and the return of displaced persons. “There is a strong will for making the Juba agreement a success,” he said, adding, “There is commitment and a clear political will to accelerate the implementation process and demonstrate to the non-signatory movements of Abdel Aziz al Hilu and Abdel Wahid al Nour that peace is the only way forward for a prosperous, stable and just Sudan that caters to all its people.” He also met with the Deputy Chief Mediator for the Juba process, Dhieu Mathok of South Sudan, as well as the Prime Minister and other parties to the peace process.
The Juba Agreement will immediately reactivate the “Four Freedoms” — of residence, movement, undertaking economic activity, and owning and disposing of property— between Sudan and South Sudan, he said, which will enable citizens to move, conduct business, settle and transfer or own assets in either country freely, or with minimal transaction costs. The Sudanese Minister for Defence pledged that Sudan would meet its commitment to open border crossing points on 27 October. Measures taken to open the dry port in Kosti and to re-launch commercial river transport operations and other crossing points will allow for the free movement of goods and services, expediting cross-border trade and enabling South Sudan to compete on markets with other neighbouring countries. Meantime, the African Union has indicated its intention to convene the Joint Border Commission soon and has encouraged both countries to resume high-level meetings, such as the Joint Security Commission and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism.
Authorities in both countries are confident that all outstanding bilateral issues, including Abyei and resolution of the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, will benefit from their new friendly ties and mutual trust, he said. In addition, the two countries signed a protocol on 28 September to resume oil production in the Unity and Toma South fields, with 15,000 barrels per day expected to be produced very soon. The warm relations also provide an opportunity for the international community to strengthen further its engagements with both countries as they still grapple with their internal challenges. “I left Khartoum last Friday with mixed feelings,” he said, noting his hope about the unprecedented drive for peace, but deeply concerned by the sight of endless fuel and bread queues. “Without concrete peace dividends, the legitimate aspirations for freedom and shared prosperity of the Sudanese people may be jeopardized.” In this context, he welcomed the announcement by the United States Government on 20 October to remove to Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Mr. MILLS (United States) welcomed what he called a dramatic improvement in relations between Sudan and South Sudan over the past several years. He called for both countries to maintain the momentum created by the Juba Agreement by resolving all outstanding issues concerning Abyei. Commending UNISFA for its work and Ethiopia’s support for the Mission, he called on the two countries to end blockages to its work, expecting additional steps to improve the situation in the coming weeks. Slow issuance of visas, lack of police and closure of the airstrip are undermining stability in Abyei. He looked forward to working together to renew UNISFA’s mandate, however, he stated that now is the time to consider a future that does not require a peacekeeping operation through the parties taking over their responsibilities. In its remaining time, the Mission is valuable to promoting peaceful relations between people in the area with the adequate participation of women, to pave the way for durable peace. Noting that that the Mission was created as an interim force, he stressed that UNISFA’s indefinite operation, particularly with the restrictions placed on it, is untenable. Regular meetings of the Joint Border and Monitoring Mechanism must be held to begin a transition. His country, he pledged, will continue to work for stability in the region; removing Sudan from the list of countries promoting terrorism is a recognition of his country’s support for progress. All parties in the region must come now together to provide the environment for people to live together without violence.
ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom), welcoming the Juba Agreement, called for its swift implementation and urged all parties to work peacefully and without obstructions to resolve all outstanding issues. She called it disappointing, however, that the rapprochement has not yet resulted in improvements on the ground in Abyei. Commending UNISFA’s work there, including women’s empowerment, she also regretted the obstacles faced by the Mission and called for the parties to facilitate the Mission’s work and engage with it to develop the necessary security mechanisms. In that context, she called for swift issuance of visas and opening of the airstrip. Humanitarian aid must be facilitated without hindrance. In all areas, she urged the Governments to work closely with the United Nations as a key partner in the creation of lasting peace and development in the region.
DAI BING (China), welcoming the ongoing rapprochement now taking shape between Sudan and South Sudan, underlined the need for the two countries to work towards a peaceful, lasting settlement on the matter of Abyei. The Council should fully recognize the two countries’ leadership on that issue, as well as the facilitation efforts of regional organizations. Expressing concern about ongoing intercommunal clashes, he urged local communities to actively respond to the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire amid COVID-19, as well as his calls to “Silence the Guns” in Africa. Emphasizing that tens of thousands of people in Abyei remain displaced and hundreds of thousands currently require humanitarian assistance, he called on the international community to respond to those needs accordingly. He also expressed support for UNISFA’s mandate, underlining his hope that the Mission will make every effort to ensure the safety of its peacekeepers.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), also speaking on behalf of Viet Nam, praised the signing of a recent peace agreement in Juba. “This is a testament of tremendous progress that can be achieved by the two countries,” he said, noting that Indonesia and Viet Nam are looking forward to more achievements on that front. However, he joined other speakers in expressing concern about ongoing intercommunal clashes, as well as the widespread humanitarian impacts of COVID-19, and calling for the rapid deployment of the mandated United Nations police officers in Abyei. Efforts should also be strengthened to enhance peaceful dialogue, he added, welcoming the continued engagement of regional organizations. UNISFA’s presence remains critical to maintaining stability in Abyei. As two troop-contributing countries, Indonesia and Viet Nam stand together in condemning all attacks against peacekeepers in Abyei, he said, calling upon the parties to lend their full support the Mission and advocating for the renewal of its mandate.
GUENTER SAUTTER (Germany), welcoming positive developments on the political front, including a historic Juba peace agreement, urged Sudan and South Sudan to take advantage of the ongoing momentum and a high level of confidence built between them to address the remaining issues. Strongly condemning attacks against peacekeepers, he stressed the obligation of the host country to investigate the incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable. His delegation supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend UNIFSA’s mandate by six months, but there should be no business as usual. The Council had sent a clear message that the Mission must adapt, he said, stressing that UNIFSA is not fit for purpose due to the host country’s obstruction. Calling for a stronger police component in the Mission, he urged the Sudanese authorities to issue visas to police personnel. There is also a continued need to strengthen its civilian components, he said, welcoming the Secretary-General’s proposal to deploy human rights experts.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) welcomed the recent signing of agreements and urged Sudan and South Sudan to maintain the positive momentum to resolve the situation in Abyei, where the people still suffer from instability. For that purpose, a meaning political process is still needed. That process could be aided by the appointment of a deputy head of mission and he called on all parties to facilitate this. Condemning attacks on United Nations staff and contractors, he called for investigation of violent incidents and the assignment of human rights experts to UNISFA. He agreed with the extension of UNISFA for six months, but emphasized discussion must be undertaken to determine the best presence of the United Nations for the future. He called on the parties to capitalize on their improved relationship to push for progress on the question of Abyei and for the removal of any impediments to implementation of UNISFA’s mandate.
JOAN MARGARITA SEDANO (Dominican Republic), welcoming the Juba Agreement, acknowledged that border demarcation is a difficult issue, but said that it should not impede the determination of Abyei’s status. Discussions towards that end must be resumed on all outstanding issues in the relevant mechanisms. Praising UNISFA’s work in the promotion of bilateral forums for conflict prevention and its work on creation of a local police service, she stressed the need for a Deputy Head of Mission and adequate police staffing. Decrying continued violence in the Abyei region, she underlined the importance of keeping the area a weapons-free zone and implementation of the women, peace and security agenda there, as well as the empowerment of youth. Protection from sexual violence is essential. In all matters, the parties must be ready to commit themselves and honour their commitments for the mutual benefit of their peoples.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), expressing regret that the political process remains at a standstill today, said that the Mission is designed as an interim force, not intended to entrench a situation with no political prospect of resolving the conflict. The current dynamic between Khartoum and Juba is encouraging and must extend to the situation in Abyei. Positive gestures, such as the signing of the Juba peace accord and the resumption of discussions on the final status of Abyei, must be reflected on the ground. The recommendations made by the Secretary-General in his latest report offer an opportunity for the parties to pledge their re-engagement. The resumption of dialogue at the local level to deal with security issues and to move towards the establishment of joint administrations in the area is essential. Equally important are the operationalization of Antony airport, issuance of visas for the deployment of police units and the arrival of a Deputy Head of Mission.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), also speaking for Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, urged Sudan, South Sudan and the Security Council to capitalize on the current positive dynamism so that the pursuit of just and lasting peace in both countries extends to the Abyei area. He also urged the two countries to continue to foster mutual trust with a view to fully implementing their cooperation agreements and reaching a positive-sum settlement to the final status of Abyei. His delegation is encouraged by senior-level visits held over the last two months in Juba and Khartoum, and the commitment expressed by both sides to reinvigorate the peace process and address the final status issue. Given the continued relevance for the UNISFA mandate in stabilizing Abyei and bringing certainty amid these uncertain times, his delegation endorses the Secretary‑General’s recommendation to extend the Mission’s mandate and its support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism for a further six months.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), acknowledging the reality of improved relations between Khartoum and Juba, said that progress must now be made in Abyei, most urgently on the concerns of the Joint Security Mechanism, the opening of the Antony landing strip and the issuance of visas. Condemning continued intercommunity violence, she said it underlined the need for full police staffing by the Mission. Understaffing remains a problem despite the Council’s clear call for amelioration of the situation. Praising the peacebuilding efforts of UNISFA, she noted also the support for such efforts from the European Union. Without a resolution of the issue of Abyei, she added, it is not possible yet to consider the drawdown of UNISFA, but she cautioned that it is also not possible for the Mission to be extended indefinitely.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), Council President for October, speaking in her national capacity, welcomed political progress and cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan, and said that recent positive developments illustrated the need for African solutions to African problems. She expressed the hope that the parties will be guided by that principle in making progress in Abyei. Commending UNISFA’s efforts to improve intercommunity relations in Abyei, she called on the Mission to pursue further efforts towards reconciliation, noting that it would have positive effects throughout the region. Acknowledging obstacles posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic in the advancement of necessary mechanisms in Abyei, she supported the extension of the mandate of UNISFA, emphasizing, however, that it must respect the views of Khartoum and Juba and the underlying principles of peacekeeping.
OMER MOHAMED AHMED SIDDIG (Sudan) said bilateral relations between his Government and that of South Sudan are progressing steadily, with regular meetings and a new peace agreement recently signed in Juba. His Government has expressed its commitment to resolving the issue of Abyei in that same spirit. Pointing out that the legal and political terms governing arrangements in Abyei — including the existence of UNISFA — are temporary in nature, he said the 2011 agreement signed between Sudan and South Sudan provide for the creation of local mechanisms to administer the area. “Sudan has always been ready to adhere to the terms of that agreement,” he said, noting that the Government is ready to play its role in constituting the local police force. Commending UNISFA personnel for their work and condemning all attacks against it, he welcomed the upcoming extension of the Mission’s mandate for six months as recommended by the Secretary-General and supported today by many Council members.