UN Interim Security Force for Abyei Mandate Renewal
Tomorrow morning (14 October), the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The draft resolution was circulated by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, to Council members last week, followed by one negotiating session on Thursday (9 October). It appears that negotiations were generally smooth. The draft was put under silence the following day (10 October), after which it went into blue.
The draft resolution makes no fundamental changes to the mandate, which is expected to be extended for an additional four and a half months. The text has been updated from the most recent UNISFA resolution (S/RES/2156) to account for developments of the past four months. The draft takes note of the analysis in the Secretary-General’s recent report on Abyei (S/2014/709), which argues that while the situation on the ground in Abyei has been relatively calm, the risk of conflict remains (between the Ngok-Dinka and the Misseriya communities) that could exacerbate relations between Sudan and South Sudan. It also calls on Sudan and South Sudan to take steps to reconvene the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), which had provided some administration of the region but has been dormant for well over a year.
The draft reiterates ongoing concerns about the lack of progress made by the parties in addressing issues of mutual concern and in fulfilling their obligations under their 20 June 2011 agreement. For example, it once again demands that the parties begin establishing an Abyei Area Administration, a Legislative Council, and an Abyei Police Service. It also condemns the continued presence of Sudanese police and South Sudan troops in Abyei, in violation of several Council resolutions and expresses concern that efforts to make the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism along the Sudan-South Sudan border fully operational continue to be delayed, in part because South Sudan continues to disagree on the location of the centre-line for the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone.
The draft text notes the Secretary-General’s concern in his report that the 7 September decision of Sudan to include Abyei, a disputed territory, in its upcoming national elections could destabilise the region. While several members recognise the potential instability that could be precipitated by including Abyei within the geographical boundaries of Sudan in the context of a national election, Russia and China were of the opinion that this paragraph was not balanced. During the negotiations, Russia apparently noted that in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 Abyei is technically still part of Sudan until a referendum in the region is conducted to determine whether it is part of Sudan or South Sudan. However, these concerns were not strong enough for either member to break silence on the draft.
It furthermore calls on the Secretary-General to explore options, with support from the AU Commission and Ethiopia, for the parties to employ creative approaches to expedite the implementation of outstanding administrative and security agreements. (Ethiopia provides nearly all the troops for UNISFA.) It asks that the findings with regard to these options be incorporated in the Secretary-General’s next UNISFA report.
Tomorrow’s adoption comes on the heels of Council members’ consultations on UNISFA last Tuesday (7 October) during which Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet told Council members that unilateral actions by the parties have not been helpful. In this sense, Mulet referred to the Ngok-Dinka’s decision to establish a committee to lobby for international support for their unilateral community referendum in October 2013, which was not recognised by Sudan, but during which the Ngok-Dinka voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan. Additionally, he mentioned the instability that could be caused by Sudan’s intention to include Abyei among the areas that will participate in the country’s 2015 national elections.
Another important issue that came up during these consultations is the Secretary-General’s intention, outlined in his recent report, to appoint a civilian to head UNISFA, which to date has been led by the force commander. (Acting Head and Force Commander of UNISFA Halefom Moges was also present at the meeting.) Mulet said that this decision had been made in order to emphasise the political and humanitarian aspects of the mission’s mandate, including UNISFA’s role in promoting inter-communal dialogue and facilitating humanitarian access. According to the Secretary-General’s report, Ethiopia supports this reconfiguration of the mission’s leadership.
Several Council members have been frustrated by the lack in progress made by Sudan and South Sudan in resolving divisive issues with regard to Abyei. There is a sense that the Council should avoid extending the mandate of the mission over and over again, given that it was originally expected to be deployed on an interim basis. With tomorrow’s renewal, the mandate will be extended until 28 February 2015. Some members believe that there will need to be a serious discussion on the future of the UN’s presence in Abyei prior to that time, although they are hopeful that in the meantime there will be some positive results on the political front. Council members are also aware that next February will be a critical time in Abyei with regard to the political and security situation, as it will be only two months before Sudan’s national elections and the middle of the migration season for the Misseriya, a time when they bring their cattle through Abyei to graze, often causing friction with the Ngok-Dinka, who live in Abyei year round and consider it their ancestral homeland.