What's In Blue

Posted Wed 23 Oct 2013

Sudan-South Sudan Consultations

Tomorrow morning (24 October), Council members are scheduled to hold the semi-monthly consultations on Sudan-South Sudan issues with Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun expected to brief.

Several issues will likely be on Council members minds and may be discussed during the consultations.

Council members may be interested in receiving an update on the 22 October summit meeting convened in Juba between President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, which appears to be symptomatic of an apparent improvement in relations between the two countries. While the parties were once again unable to make headway on the final status of Abyei, the disputed area straddling the Sudan and South Sudan, they released a joint communiqué at the conclusion of the meeting in which they inter-alia agreed: to expedite the establishment of the Abyei temporary institutions (Abyei Area Administration, Abyei Area Council and Abyei Police Force); to continue to advocate for debt relief and development assistance for Sudan and South Sudan and the lifting of economic sanctions on Sudan; and to strengthen cooperation between the central banks and banking sectors of both countries. Council members are encouraged by the recent upturn in relations between the two countries, which appears to have begun after the 3 September summit meeting in Khartoum, at which Bashir promised not to follow through on to the threatened shut down of the transport of oil from South Sudan through Sudan.

Council members are also likely to receive an update on and discuss what can be done to mitigate the volatile situation in Abyei. Tensions between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities have been running especially high, particularly since the killing of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief at the hands of a Misseriya gunman on 5 May. Tensions between the two groups have been discussed in recent Sudan-South Sudan consultations, and will likely feature prominently in tomorrow’s meeting.

The issue has come to a head now because the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) proposed on 21 September 2012 that the Abyei referendum envisaged in the 9 January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) be conducted in October 2013. The AU Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) has called this proposal a “fair, equitable, and workable solution,” and has encouraged the parties to use the proposal as a framework for their negotiations, although it has not endorsed the proposal in a binding, decisive way. Sudan, which committed to holding the referendum in the CPA, is nonetheless against the AUHIP proposal because it is concerned that the migratory Misseriya, who would likely vote for Abyei to become part of Sudan, would be excluded from the vote, as they pass through the area several months a year to graze their cattle and thus do not permanently reside there.

Council members are particularly concerned that in recent weeks the Ngok-Dinka community has been planning to hold a unilateral referendum, which they fear could spark wider violence. Although no date was specified, the Ngok-Dinka issued a statement on 18 October declaring their intent to conduct a referendum “in a fair and transparent manner and call(ed) upon the international community, media houses and relevant organizations to monitor and observe the Abyei Area Community Referendum.” Council members were informed by the Secretariat in recent consultations that some Ngok-Dinka have said that they may try to hinder the migration of the Misseriya through Abyei if a referendum is not held. Sudan was also sharply critical of South Sudan when it released civil servants last month to return home to Abyei to participate in a referendum, while the Misseriya community in South Kordofan state threatened violence if the referendum is held.

It remains unclear what actions, if any, the Council may take to address the volatile situation in Abyei. It should be noted, however, that the AU PSC, in a 21 October press statement, “stressed the urgency of establishing the Abyei Area Referendum Commission, including the review and adoption of a revised referendum law”, although it also “made an urgent appeal to the Parties to refrain from any unilateral action”. (This statement followed on the heels of a 9 October letter to the AU Commission in which Kiir stated that Sudan and South Sudan would likely be unable to solve Abyei’s final status and asked that the AU PSC endorse the AUHIP proposal and facilitate the creation of a referendum commission so that the vote could take place in October.)

Another issue that may be raised during the consultations tomorrow is the polio vaccination campaign planned for children in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. In the 10 October consultations on Sudan-South Sudan, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous discussed the urgency of this campaign, and on the following day, the Council adopted a press statement (SC/11145) expressing concern about the threat of polio spreading through South Kordofan state and calling on Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) to resolve their differences regarding the technical aspects of implementing the two-week vaccination campaign so that it can begin on 5 November.

There may be interest among Council members in receiving an update on what progress has been made in preparations for the campaign. While Council members by and large agree that this is strictly a humanitarian issue, the terms of a cessation of hostilities may need to be negotiated for the campaign to move forward. The SPLM-N has also argued that Sudan should not participate in the delivery of the vaccine. Council members may want more details on whether any headway has been made with respect to these challenges.

Other issues that may be raised in tomorrow’s meeting include whether any further progress has been made in determining the centre line of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone between the two countries, the status of the implementation of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, and the political situation in Sudan in the aftermath of the domestic turmoil in late September and early October following the lifting of fuel subsidies by the government.

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