What's In Blue

Posted Fri 8 Nov 2013

Sudan-South Sudan Consultations

On Monday (11 November), Council members will hold consultations on Sudan-South Sudan focusing on compliance by Sudan, South Sudan, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) with resolution 2046, with Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous expected to brief. In accordance with this resolution, which provided a roadmap for the parties to resolve the issues separating them, meetings on Sudan-South Sudan had been convened semi-monthly since May 2012. However, after many months of discussion, it seems Council members have agreed that the twice per month format did not strengthen the effectiveness of Council engagement on the agenda item. (On the November programme of work, there is only one meeting scheduled on this particular agenda item.)

A number of issues may be raised in Monday’s consultations. The situation in Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border, is likely to be an important part of the discussion. There has been growing concern among Council members that heightened tensions in Abyei between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities could escalate into conflict that also has the potential to draw in Sudan and South Sudan. In spite of calls from the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to “refrain from unilateral actions” in recent weeks, the Ngok-Dinka went forward with a unilateral referendum in Abyei in late October. Although the referendum did not have official support from Sudan or South Sudan, South Sudan did release civil servants originally from Abyei to return to the region to participate in the vote. While the vote is not legally binding and is primarily symbolic, the Abyei Referendum High Committee, which organised the referendum, stated that 99.89 percent of the more than 63,000 voters chose for Abyei to become part of South Sudan.

The Ngok-Dinka have been frustrated that the commitment made by Sudan and South Sudan in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to hold a referendum to determine whether Abyei would join Sudan or South Sudan has not come to fruition. They were further disappointed that the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) 21 September 2012 proposal, calling for an Abyei referendum in October 2013, failed to gain the requisite traction for an official referendum process to take place.

While the PSC has expressed “its full acceptance of, and support to” the 21 September proposal and urged the Security Council to do so as well (PSC/PR/COMM.[CDIII]), the members of the Council are divided on the matter. This division was evident when Council members negotiated elements to the press during consultations on 24 October, expressing grave concern about the volatile situation in Abyei. During the discussion, a suggested reference to the 21 September proposal was dropped after China and Russia objected. As a compromise, in the elements to the press read by Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev (Azerbaijan) as President of the Council in October, Council members “recall[ed] their decision in resolution 2046 that the parties must resume immediately negotiations to reach agreement on Abyei final status under the auspices of the AUHIP.”

During Monday’s consultations, Council members may be interested in receiving information on the 5-6 November visit by the PSC to Abyei. The PSC met with representatives of the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities, as well as with the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA). On 6 November, the PSC adopted a communiqué in which it “reiterated its full acceptance” of the 21 September proposal and “renewed its appeal to the UN Security Council to urgently support the proposal as the best way forward for a solution in Abyei” (PSC/PR/BR.(CDV)). The PSC further noted that its trip was “aimed at helping in the healing process for the Abyei communities” and it “called upon all the stakeholders in Abyei not to aggravate the already tense situation on the ground.”

While it seems unlikely that the Council will endorse the 21 September proposal at this point, Council members may be keen to explore ways in which they can work to mitigate tensions in Abyei that could lead to violent conflict. This seems to be an especially key issue at the current time given that the Misseriya have begun their annual migration through Abyei to graze their cattle, a process which in recent years has resulted in significant friction with the Ngok-Dinka, some of whom have obstructed their passage through the area in the past.

Another issue that might be raised on Monday is the potential polio vaccination campaign for children in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. On 10 October, Ladsous expressed the urgent need for such a campaign in consultations with Council members, as there had been isolated cases of people contracting the disease in South Sudan. On 11 October, the Council issued a press statement in which it called on Sudan and the SPLM-N to resolve their differences regarding the technical aspects of implementing the polio vaccination campaign so that it could begin on 5 November. The Council also noted in the statement that over 165,000 children were at risk, as immunisation had not been conducted in the areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile bordering South Sudan in over two years.

At press time, it did not appear that progress had been made on this matter. The vaccination campaign, which was planned to commence on 5 November, has not begun. On 4 November, the SPLM-N released a statement in which it claimed that its delegation could not travel to Addis Ababa for negotiations with Sudan arranged by the AUHIP because Sudan had not sent its own representatives, alleging that it had not received an invitation.

Council members will likely be interested in receiving any further news regarding the potential for future discussions between the parties on this issue, and whether there has been any change in their positions. At press time, it appeared that two key issues needed to be resolved. First, Sudan and the SPLM-N need to work out the terms of a ceasefire to allow the safe delivery and administration of the polio vaccination. The SPLM-N has asserted that the “announcement of a cessation of hostilities is necessary to provide assurances to […] families to bring back their children to the reachable areas for the polio vaccination campaign.” Second, the SPLM-N, while shifting from its earlier position that the vaccine be delivered not from Sudan but from another country (i.e. Kenya or Ethiopia), nonetheless does not want the vaccine to be delivered by government officials from Sudan, instead suggesting that it be delivered by UNISFA personnel.

In addition to discussing the situation in Abyei and the polio vaccination campaign, Council members may more generally be interested in an update on Sudan-South Sudan relations. It seems that there has been somewhat of a thaw in Sudan-South Sudan relations since early September. Sudan did not follow through on its threat to shut down the flow of oil from South Sudan, significant border skirmishes have not been reported, and the two governments have not recently exchanged heated rhetoric against each other. While negotiations on Abyei’s final status remain mired in gridlock, Council members may be interested in discussing how to use the current political climate to facilitate negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on border demarcation, economic cooperation, and other areas of mutual concern.

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