May 2024 Monthly Forecast


Sudan/South Sudan

Expected Council Action  

In May, the Council is expected to receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), due by 1 May, as requested in resolution 2708 of 14 November 2023. Consultations will follow the briefing.

The mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) expire on 15 November.

Key Recent Developments

The outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan in April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader, and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemeti), continue to exacerbate the already dire humanitarian, political, and security situation in the Abyei region, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 6 November 2023 by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa Hanna Serwaa Tetteh.

Lacroix said that the conflict in Sudan had “effectively put on hold the political process with regard to the final status of Abyei and border issues”. He noted that the mission had witnessed an increased circulation of weapons in Abyei, pointing out that this might be attributed to the situation in Sudan. He added that the conflict had also created economic hardship for the population of Abyei because of the disruption in the flow of basic goods and commodities from Sudan. Highlighting the challenges faced by UNISFA, he pointed out that fighting in South Kordofan and the JBVMM’s area of operations placed restrictions on air movements that hampered safe resupply and the continued implementation of the mechanism’s mandate. He noted that UNISFA had adjusted its deployment routes and supply arrangements. In her remarks during the meeting, Tetteh warned that military developments in Sudan are likely to have adverse consequences on Abyei’s “social fabric and the already fragile coexistence between the Misserya and the Ngok Dinka [communities]”.

The security situation in the area remains tense, with continuing inter-communal violence. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), dated 26 February and covering developments between 1 December 2023 and 15 February, said that inter-communal violence between the Ngok Dinka and Twic Dinka communities persisted in the contested areas along the border between the Abyei area and Warrap state in South Sudan. In a 31 December 2023 press release, UNISFA condemned the killing of the Juba-appointed deputy chief administrator in the southern Abyei area, Noon Deng Nyok, and five other people in an ambush by an “armed group” in Wunpeth, near Agok town. This incident, the press release said, “risk[ed] the gains that have been made towards resolving the difficult situation in [s]outhern Abyei”. It called on all parties to exercise restraint and collaborate in bringing the perpetrators of the crime to justice and further reaffirmed UNISFA’s commitment to supporting local authorities in their efforts to promote reconciliation, stability, and the rule of law.

In a 27 January press release, UNISFA condemned the armed attacks that had taken place earlier that day in the Nyinkuac, Majbong and Khadian areas of Abyei. It said that an armed group also attacked UNISFA’s base in Agok, during which a peacekeeper from Ghana was killed. The mission evacuated civilians in imminent threat of danger to UNISFA bases. The next day (28 January), a peacekeeper from Pakistan was killed and four other uniformed personnel were injured when they came under heavy fire while transporting injured civilians from a UNISFA base to a hospital.

Clashes broke out again on 3-4 February in the southern part of Abyei, which included the use of heavy weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, according to a 5 February UNISFA press release. UNISFA peacekeepers were targeted when an armoured personnel carrier came under heavy fire in an ambush. Peacekeepers from Ghana also came under attack at a base in Marial Achak. The mission intensified its patrols by land and air to deter further violence and protect civilians. The press release called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, respect for international humanitarian law, and protection of civilians—urging all stakeholders to cooperate in holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring the restoration of peace in Abyei.

The Secretary-General’s UNMISS report said that the 27-28 January and 3-4 February attacks resulted in the deaths of 83 people, including four humanitarian workers, and injured several others. During the period covered by the report, more than 2,200 people were displaced in Abyei, most of whom were children and women who sought refuge in the UNISFA compound in Rumajak, near Abyei town. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organisation that collects conflict-related data, attributed responsibility for these attacks, including the killing of Deng Nyok, to elements of Twic Dinka community (also known as Titweng) and forces of Gai Machiek, a spiritual leader from the Nuer ethnic community and a leader of the South Sudan People’s Movement/Army—an allegation denied by Machiek and leaders of the Twic community.

In an 8 February press statement, Council members condemned the attacks that resulted in the deaths of two peacekeepers and numerous civilian casualties on 27-28 January and expressed concerns about the escalation of violence in recent months. Members called on the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to address the ongoing violence and take necessary steps to de-escalate tensions between affected communities and protect civilians. They denounced the targeting of peacekeepers and provocations against UNISFA and called for those responsible to be held accountable. Members stressed the need for relevant legal authorities to investigate and engage communities involved, as appropriate.

From 19 to 23 February, Lacroix and Tetteh undertook a visit to South Sudan and travelled to Abyei for two days. During the visit, they held discussions with the South Sudanese leadership, including President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar, local communities and civil society in Abyei, and officials from the UN missions in Abyei and South Sudan, among others. At a press conference in Juba at the end of the visit, Lacroix indicated that the discussions were focused on the recent incidents of inter-communal violence, the need to de-escalate the tensions and rebuild trust with the local communities, and the final status of Abyei area. While tensions between the communities remained high, he acknowledged the ongoing engagements seeking to ease them at all levels, including in Juba and Abyei. Giving the UN’s assessment of the current situation, Tetteh said “our understanding of the basis for the current conflict boils down to a land dispute between two subgroups of the Dinka ethnic group—the Ngok and the Twic”. Regarding the final status of Abyei, she noted that current circumstances did not present an opportunity to hold such discussions, pointing out the lack of representation on the Sudanese side and guarantees for implementation. (Prior to the conflict, Hemeti participated in the discussions as the head of Sudan’s Abyei Committee.)

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how to reinvigorate the political process to address the final status of Abyei and Sudan-South Sudan border issues amid the war in Sudan, which has virtually put the process on hold. A step in this regard could be to secure a ceasefire in Sudan. Mitigating the effects of Sudan’s conflict on the security and humanitarian situation in Abyei also remains a critical issue.

A related issue is the operational difficulties that UNISFA and the JBVMM face because of the conflict in Sudan, including restrictions on freedom of movement.

Another significant issue for the Council is the rising levels of inter-communal violence and the resulting insecurity in the area.

Also an important issue for the Council is the continued presence of South Sudanese and Sudanese security forces in Abyei in violation of the area’s demilitarised status. The proliferation of arms in Abyei is also a critical issue.

During the upcoming meeting in May, Council members could encourage UNISFA and the authorities in Sudan and South Sudan to engage with the communities, de-escalate tensions, and support local mediation and reconciliation efforts. Members may also express grave concern about the attacks on peacekeepers and call on the relevant authorities to ensure accountability and justice. The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement delivering these messages.

Council Dynamics

Council members agree on the important roles that UNISFA and the JBVMM play in supporting peace, security, and stability in Abyei and the broader region. Members share concerns about the rising incidents of inter-communal violence, attacks on peacekeepers and the compounding effects of Sudan’s conflict on the political, humanitarian and security situation in the Abyei area.

The unanimous adoption of resolution 2708, which last renewed UNISFA’s mandate, demonstrated that the Council remains unified in its view that the mission plays an important role in promoting regional stability, protecting civilians, and advancing efforts towards a political settlement.

The US is the penholder on Abyei.

Sign up for SCR emails

Security Council Resolutions
14 November 2023S/RES/2708 This resolution renews the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for another year, until 15 November 2024.
Security Council Meeting Records
6 November 2023S/PV.9467 This was a briefing on UNISFA.
Secretary-General’s Reports
26 February 2024S/2024/188 This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on South Sudan.

Subscribe to receive SCR publications