Council Press Statement on Abyei
On Sunday, 22 May, Council members in an unusual move, issued a press statement while in Sudan on the second leg of their mission to Africa. The statement condemned the southern forces’ attack on the UNMIS convoy on 19 May and referred to the attack as a breach of agreements and a criminal act. It also condemned the “escalatory military operations” being undertaken by SAF in and around Abyei town, including the shelling of the UNMIS compound in Abyei. In addition the statement deplored the unilateral dissolution of the Abyei administration and called for its re-establishment and for the Sudan government to halt its military operations and withdraw immediately from Abyei.
The decision to issue the statement appears to have been prompted by the very serious events that had taken place in Abyei that week-end. On Saturday, 21 May, the SAF entered the area with forces from the North, captured Abyei town and bombed at least four villages in the area with heavy heavy artillery and tanks. The UNMIS base in Abyei was hit and two peacekeepers injured.
It seems that there was discussion of having a presidential statement rather than a press statement. But this would have to be adopted in a formal session of the Council and there is a complex procedure for agreeing to meet away from headquarters. Some Council members indicated that they would need to consult their capitals on such a proposal. As this would have meant a 24 hour delay, it was decided that a press statement which could be quickly turned around was the better option.
The Council delegation was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Ali Karti and Vice President Ali Osman Taha on Sunday, 22 May. These meetings were cancelled only shortly before they were expected to take place. While it seems that there was already interest in reacting speedily and firmly to the events in Abyei, the sudden cancellation of these meetings may have reinforced the need in some Council member’s minds for some sort of reaction.