Sudan and South Sudan
Expected Council Action
Council members are expected to hold consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the mission prior to its expiration on 15 October. A high-level representative from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is expected to brief during the consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Abyei remains one of the most intractable issues in Sudan-South Sudan relations. Both countries still cannot agree on the criteria for voter participation in a referendum to determine whether Abyei joins Sudan or South Sudan. Sudan continues to maintain a security presence in this disputed area and South Sudanese troops sporadically infiltrate Abyei in contravention of the 20 June 2011 agreement and resolutions 1990 and 2046, prompting concerns that Abyei could become a powder-keg for a Sudan-South Sudan war. Additionally, temporary administrative and security units—including the Abyei Area Executive Council, the Abyei Area Administration and the Abyei Police Service—envisaged by the 2011 agreement and designed to provide stability to the region until its final status can be determined have never been established.
In his July report on Abyei, the Secretary-General reiterated his concern about “the potential for a serious escalation of tensions between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities that could lead to an outbreak of hostilities during the upcoming migration season”, which is expected to begin in November. Analysts have long feared that skirmishes between the Ngok-Dinka (a group with significant representation among South Sudan’s leadership whose ancestral homeland is Abyei) and the Misseriya (a migratory Arab group that travels through Abyei to graze its cattle) could spark a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The anger and frustration of the Ngok-Dinka have been particularly pronounced since the assassination of their paramount chief at the hands of a Misseriya gunman in May 2013 and the unwillingness of Sudan and South Sudan to honour the results of the Ngok-Dinka’s unilateral Abyei referendum in October 2013, in which they voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan.
On 12 September, the AU Peace and Security Council adopted a communiqué [PSC/PR/COMM.(CDLVI)] on the work of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) mediating between Sudan and South Sudan, in which it expressed “concern that key elements of the June 2011 agreement have not yet been implemented, and that these delays affect the normalization of the life of the people of Abyei”. The communiqué also recalls the affirmations of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan that they would work together to address the final status of Abyei.
On 7 September, the National Election Commission of Sudan announced that Abyei would be included among the areas participating in Sudan’s 2015 national elections. South Sudan has contested this decision, with Kiir spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny, arguing that “neither Juba nor Khartoum can take a unilateral decision” regarding the status of the region.
While engaging with Council members in an informal interactive dialogue on 17 September, Thabo Mbeki, the AUHIP chair, admitted the need for a strategy on Abyei but noted that South Sudan’s preoccupation with its own civil war had distracted it from focusing on the region. Mbeki also alluded to South Sudan’s concerns about the placement of the centre line of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone, a buffer zone between Sudan and South Sudan. According to the Secretary-General’s 23 July report on Abyei, South Sudan is concerned that the coordinates of the centre line could be used to “demarcate the agreed border corridors in disputed border areas [which] would then amount to de facto border demarcation.” (Sudan and South Sudan have yet to make progress on border demarcation.)
The rainy season has hampered the operation of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) along the Sudan-South Sudan border in recent months. Several JBVMM missions have been cancelled—including on 31 July and 6 August—because of poor weather conditions, which limit visibility. (The monitoring missions are currently done via air because adequate troop strength is not yet available to protect the monitors, and operating bases for the monitors are still being constructed.)
A key issue is ensuring that the challenging security situation in Abyei does not escalate into large-scale violence, given the ongoing tensions between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities, the presence of Sudanese police in Abyei and the intermittent incursions of South Sudanese troops there.
A related issue is how to jump-start negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on the establishment of temporary administrative institutions in Abyei and the final status of the region.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew the mandate of UNISFA for an additional four months. In doing so, it could choose to:
- reiterate its demands for Sudan and South Sudan to withdraw security forces from Abyei;
- urge the two countries to reengage in concerted negotiations to establish temporary administrative institutions in Abyei; and
- call on the parties to revitalise the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, which has been dormant for well over a year, to oversee political and security issues in Abyei.
The Council remains frustrated with the lack of progress by Sudan and South Sudan in resolving the political and security challenges facing them in the Abyei. There is an understanding in the Council that while this impasse remains, Abyei will continue to be unstable. Some members also appear to be impatient about the fact that what was supposed to be an interim force to provide order in the region and protect its residents has now dragged on for more than three years without the parties coming to agreement on the fundamental issues dividing them.
The US is the penholder on UNISFA.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 May 2014 S/RES/2156||This renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 October.|
|23 July 2014 S/2014/518||The was the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Abyei.|
|Security Council Letter|
|23 June 2011 S/2011/384||This letter from the Secretary-General to the Council conveyed the Abyei agreement of 20 June.|