Sudan and South Sudan
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will likely renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), which expires on 27 May.
Additional Council meetings on Sudan-South Sudan issues may occur, given the sharp deterioration of relations between the two countries in April. At press time, it appeared that the Council might begin negotiating a resolution on this matter.
Key Recent Developments
After skirmishes along the Sudan-South Sudan border in late March, Sudan cancelled a summit meeting between President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan that had been scheduled for 3 April in Juba. In the ensuing days and weeks, the violence in the border regions escalated significantly, although neither side made a formal declaration of war.
On 10 April, South Sudan seized the disputed border area of Heglig, which is approximately 100 kilometres east of the disputed Abyei region. It said it had done so while repulsing attacks by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Sudan labelled the seizure of Heglig an act of aggression and vowed to retake the area. Rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, the Darfur-based rebel group, were reported to be fighting alongside the South Sudan forces occupying Heglig. In a letter to the Council on 14 April, South Sudan indicated that it would leave Heglig if an international monitoring mechanism were put in place, urging the Council to consider deploying a “neutral” force there until its final status can be settled. (While disputed, Heglig has been administered by Sudan since South Sudan achieved independence in July 2011. The area accounts for roughly half of Sudan’s oil production of 115,000 barrels per day.)
On 11 April, Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed Council members in consultations on the most recent report of the Secretary-General on Abyei and the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan (S/2012/175). During the consultations, it was noted that the situation in Abyei had reached a stalemate. As indicated in the Secretary-General’s recent report, security forces from both sides remain in the region, the parties have not agreed on the Abyei Area Administration and the final status of Abyei has not been determined. (The goal of the Abyei Area Administration would be to provide basic services to the population, propose development projects, and promote security and stability in the region.) It appears that the discussion also focused on the fighting that had occurred along the Sudan-South Sudan border in the prior days, especially regarding the seizure of Heglig.
On 12 April, Sudan dropped six bombs near Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state, claiming the life of a South Sudanese soldier. Five bombs were also dropped on the town of Mayom, also in Unity, on April 16, killing eight civilians and hitting a logistics base belonging to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
There were also reports of ground combat between the SAF and South Sudanese forces on 18-19 April in areas other than Heglig. The Sudanese Media Centre, a pro-Khartoum news agency, reported that the SAF drove South Sudanese forces across the border after fighting in Al-Meram, South Kordofan. A South Sudan government spokesperson also said that other skirmishes occurred in Northern el-Ghazal and in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, states located in the western part of South Sudan.
On 12 April, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/12) in which it, inter alia:
- expressed deep and growing alarm at the escalation of the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan;
- demanded “a complete, immediate, and unconditional” end to all fighting, including a withdrawal of South Sudan from Heglig and an end to aerial bombings by the SAF, cross-border violence by both countries and support by each side to proxy forces on the other side of the border;
- urged both sides to establish a safe demilitarised border zone; and
- reiterated its demand for both sides to withdraw their security forces from Abyei.
The Council was one of several institutional voices expressing deep concern at the actions of Sudan and South Sudan. On 11 April, the EU issued a press statement calling both the occupation of Heglig by South Sudan and the bombings of South Sudanese territory by Sudan “completely unacceptable”. Likewise, in a press statement issued on 12 April, the AU Peace and Security Council “strongly condemned” the conduct of Sudan and South Sudan, demanding the withdrawal of South Sudan from Heglig and an end to Sudan’s aerial bombardments of South Sudan. Key UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, also voiced alarm at the escalation of violence between the two countries and its impact on civilians.
On 12 April, Kiir addressed South Sudan’s National Legislature on the state of relations between the two countries. He said that, in response to a request from Ban to withdraw from Heglig during a phone call the day before, he told the Secretary-General, “I am not under your command.” While indicating that South Sudan was committed to peace, Kiir said that it would defend itself.
On 17 April, Council members held an “informal interactive dialogue” focusing on the latest developments along the Sudan-South Sudan border. Thabo Mbeki, chair of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan and South Sudan, and Haile Menkerios, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Sudan and South Sudan, addressed Council members during the meeting. Mbeki and Menkerios alerted Council members that hardliners had the upper hand in both Juba and Khartoum and that both parties were “locked in a logic of war.” Council members also discussed potential strategies to exert leverage on the parties to induce their cooperation, including the threat of sanctions.
On 20 April, Kiir’s office issued a press release announcing that South Sudan had begun to withdraw from Heglig, in accordance with the Security Council’s presidential statement of 12 April and “in response to appeals by world leaders and to create an environment for the resumption of dialogue with Sudan.” South Sudan further said that it expected the status of Heglig and other areas along the border to be referred to international arbitration. On the same day, Sudan declared that it had retaken Heglig.
Fighting continued in the next days. On 22 April, media reports indicated that Sudan had engaged South Sudan across the border in Unity State. On 23 April, Sudan dropped two bombs in Bentiu, reportedly killing three people.
Actions and statements of officials on both sides during the month reflected the heightened tensions between the countries. On 16 April, members of the Sudanese parliament voted unanimously to treat the government of South Sudan as an “enemy”. On 18 April, Bashir referred to the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, the ruling party in Juba, as “insects” and said that the people of South Sudan needed to be freed from them. While visiting Heglig on 23 April, Bashir said that the time for talking had ended and that South Sudan understood only “the language of guns and ammunition.” On 24 April, while on a state visit to China, Kiir said that Sudan had “declared war on the Republic of South Sudan”.
On 24 April, Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, and Menkerios, briefed Council members during consultations. Council members were informed that, since the departure of South Sudan from Heglig, Sudan had carried out ground incursions into South Sudan and conducted aerial bombardments there that claimed the lives of 16 civilians and wounded 34 others.
Also on 24 April, the AU Peace and Security Council issued a comprehensive communiqué that included a “roadmap” which, inter-alia, called for:
- an end to hostilities, including aerial bombardments, within 48 hours;
- a cessation by both countries of support for rebel groups fighting against the other country;
- an end to “hostile propaganda and inflammatory statements in the media;”
- establishment within one week of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission and the Secure Demilitarised Border Zone along the border separating the two countries; and
- redeployment of security forces of both parties from Abyei.
The communiqué further urged Sudan and South Sudan to resume negotiations on oil revenue, citizenship issues, border demarcation, and the status of Abyei, within two weeks. If the parties fail to reach agreement on “any or all” of these issues within three months of resuming negotiations, the communiqué requested that the AU High-Level Implementation Panel submit a report on the status of negotiations, “including detailed proposals on all outstanding issues, to be endorsed as final and binding solutions to the post-secession relations.” It added that the AU was seeking the “endorsement of, and support by” the UN Security Council of this decision.
A key issue is whether and how the Council can exert sufficient leverage on the parties to deter them from expanding their conflict, induce them to cease fighting, and convince them to return in good faith to the negotiating table. Since February, the Council has produced two press statements and two presidential statements regarding the situation in Sudan and South Sudan with what appears to be minimal impact on the calculations of the parties.
Key issues related to the renewal of the mandate of UNISFA, that will likely be on Council members’ minds, include:
- the presence of security forces from both sides in Abyei in violation of prior agreements;
- the impact that the presence of Sudanese troops in Abyei has in deterring displaced persons from returning to the region;
- the lack of progress by the parties in establishing the Abyei Area Administration; and
- the lack of progress by the parties in establishing the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism along their mutual border.
Another important issue is the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan. (Sudan has yet to respond to the AU, UN, and Arab League tripartite proposal of 9 February, which presented a plan to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in both government and rebel controlled territories of both states.)
With respect to Abyei, the most likely option is for the Council to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of UNISFA. The Council may request to be briefed by Tadesse Werede Tesfay, the force commander and head of mission, on recent developments in Abyei and activities of the mission. In adopting the resolution, the Council could reiterate key messages to the parties, including:
- emphasising the need for the security forces of Sudan and South Sudan to leave Abyei;
- urging the parties to establish the Abyei Area Administration by making the necessary compromises on appointments to the body; and
- urging the parties to expedite the establishment of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.
On the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan more broadly, the Council may also consider coercive measures to induce the parties to cease their fighting, including:
- the threat of sanctions on the parties;
- the imposition of a buffer zone along the border; and
- the imposition of a no-fly zone along the border.
The Council may also consider using elements of the 24 April AU Peace and Security Council communiqué as a basis for a resolution addressing the situation in Sudan and South Sudan.
The ad-hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa might also be a forum in which the Council could strive to develop strategies to forestall the escalation of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.
Some elected members believe that key permanent members have demonstrated a greater willingness to compromise in recent months than had been the case in the past on issues related to Sudan and South Sudan. The output of the Council since mid-February on Sudan and South Sudan—including two press statements and two presidential statements—appears to demonstrate progress in terms of the ability of members to be flexible and pragmatic in negotiations. This progress seems to be a departure from the sense of stalemate in the Council that some members perceived throughout much of 2011.
While differences remain on some issues, Council members are unified in their concern about the deteriorating state of relations between Sudan and South Sudan. Among other things, most members are particularly critical of the ongoing bombardment of South Sudan by Sudan, the seizure by South Sudan of Heglig, and the fighting along the Sudan-South Sudan border more generally. At present, it also seems that the Council—as well as the AU, individual member states, and key UN officials—is working hard to consider strategies that will have maximum leverage on the parties, as relations between Sudan and South Sudan have deteriorated over the past month in spite of the Council’s significant engagement.
It seems that many Council members welcome the 24 April communiqué of the AU Peace and Security Council, and continue to support the strong role of the AU in mediating between Sudan and South Sudan. Some members likewise believe that the communiqué might serve as a useful springboard for negotiations on a resolution addressing the tensions between the two countries.
The US is the lead country on UNISFA and Sudan-South Sudan issues.
Security Council Resolutions
Latest Secretary-General’s Report
Other Relevant Facts
UNISFA: Size and Composition
Maximum authorised strength: up to 4,200 military and 50 police
Deployment as of 31 March: 3,779 total uniformed personnel (including 3,716 troops and 83 military observers); also includes 32 international civilian personnel (as of 31 December 2011).
Troop contributor: Ethiopia