What's In Blue

Posted Fri 16 May 2014

Consultations on Sudan-South Sudan and UN Interim Security Force for Abyei

On Monday (19 May), the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on Sudan-South Sudan and on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Briefings are expected in the closed session from the head of the UN Office to the AU and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios and UNISFA Force Commander Major General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam on Sudan-South Sudan and UNISFA. The US, the penholder on UNISFA, is expected to circulate a draft resolution regarding the mission’s mandate shortly, as the current mandate expires on 31 May.

Sudan/South Sudan
With both Sudan and South Sudan immersed in domestic conflicts, it does not appear that they have been able to make progress in addressing challenges of mutual interest. President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan met in Khartoum on 5 April, reportedly discussing the protection of the oil fields in South Sudan in the midst of civil war there and implementation of the 27 September 2012 agreements on oil sharing, cross-border trade, border security, and other matters. Council members may be interested in hearing whether there have been any follow-up discussions between both governments on the issues raised during the 5 April summit, and if so, whether any progress has been made on any of these issues.

Council members may also be interested in any information that Menkerios is able to share on Sudan’s national dialogue process, an issue that he addressed when he last briefed Council members in consultations on 10 April. The Council welcomed Bashir’s 27 January announcement of the national dialogue in resolution 2148 on the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur in April. However, while several Council members view the dialogue as a step in the right direction, some question the government’s intentions, perhaps reflecting concerns that Khartoum is motivated by an effort to manage political dissent, rather than to initiate meaningful reform. On 12 May, the ruling National Congress Party stated that the dialogue would begin by the end of the month.

Another issue that may be discussed during consultations is the ongoing fighting and humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan. Since the conflict in these states began nearly three years ago, political divisions in the Council have prevented it from mounting an effective response. While Council members continue to raise concerns about the crisis in these states, the Council has largely been consumed by South Sudan’s descent into civil war and, to a lesser extent, the deteriorating situation in Darfur in recent months.

On Monday, there may be interest in receiving an update on the current political, security and humanitarian dimensions of the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Party-North (SPLM-N) reconvened for face-to-face negotiations in Addis Ababa on 22 April, but the talks collapsed by the end of the month, with the sides again unable to agree on a framework for negotiations. (The SPLM-N believes that its grievances should be addressed within a national context, while Sudan disagrees). Press reports have indicated that the parties will try to meet again in late May, so Council members may be interested in any information that Menkerios may be able to share about this possible meeting. There has been heightened fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in April and May, and recent military campaigns by Sudan in both states has had a devastating impact on civilians. Bombing of civilian areas by the Sudan Armed Forces remains an ongoing concern, underscored by the bombing of a hospital in Gidel, South Kordofan in late April.

Tesfamariam is likely to provide an update on the recent activities of UNISFA and the situation in Abyei. He will likely express concern with recent developments on the ground, as well as the challenges facing the mission and how it is coping with these challenges. A number of violent incidents between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities have taken place so far this year, especially in February and March. The Abyei Area Administration has still not been formed, nearly three years after it was mandated, and security forces from both Sudan and South Sudan remain in the region in violation of several Security Council resolutions. The Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), a mechanism designed to enable joint political and administrative oversight in Abyei, has not convened in over a year, and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) across the Sudan-South Sudan border is currently not operational, largely because of the difficult security environment in the border areas and South Sudan’s unwillingness to participate in the JBVMM since November 2013.

There is frustration among several Council members with the lack of cooperation exhibited by Sudan and South Sudan in addressing the challenges they face with regards to Abyei. A strategic review of UNISFA’s mandate, carried out from 11-25 April by UNISFA, UN Secretariat officials and representatives from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Development Programme, provided a grim assessment of the security and political situation in Abyei, as well as of the efforts of the parties to fulfill their agreements. The Secretary-General’s report (S/2014/336) notes with alarm that “the conflict over Abyei still has the potential to bring Sudan and South Sudan back to war. The political processes, which were designed to resolve the dispute over its final status and restore confidence between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities, are now in total paralysis.”

According to the Secretary-General’s report, in light of the current situation, the review team suggested that four options are available to the Council in considering UNISFA’s mandate: 1) withdrawal of the mission; 2) maintenance of the status quo; 3) implementation of the AU High-Level Panel proposal of September 2012, which called for a referendum to resolve the final status of the area; and 4) support for the resumption of inter-communal dialogue and administration of the area under the oversight of the AJOC.

The Secretary-General’s report argues that, given the challenges associated with the first three options, the fourth option is “the one most likely to contribute towards consolidating peace and security in Abyei,” while it “would also offer an exit strategy for the Mission.” This option, however, requires that Sudan and South Sudan fulfill the 20 June 2011 Agreement and the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (i.e., to remove their security forces from the region, resume AJOC meetings, support a peace conference between the Misseriya and the Ngok-Dinka in the region without preconditions and use 2 percent of the funding from oil revenue derived from Abyei for economic development of the region).

While negotiations on the UNISFA resolution have yet to begin, it appears that most Council members are leaning toward this fourth option as well. At this point, it also seems that most members may concur with the Secretary-General’s recommendation that there be a technical roll-over of four months, during which time a further assessment of UNISFA’s mandate and the feasibility of implementing option four will be considered. According to the Secretary-General, such an assessment will require consultations with Ethiopia, which provides nearly all of UNISFA’s troops, and the AU “on the possibility and requirements for this option to be implemented and its sustainability.” According to Ethiopia, if the AU and the UN cannot enhance their efforts to revitalise Sudan-South Sudan joint administration of the region, and if the parties continue to refuse to work together, then Ethiopia will have to reconsider its participation in UNISFA.

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