Consultations on Sudan/South Sudan Issues and UN Force in Abyei
Tomorrow (8 July), Council members are scheduled to hold consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and Sudan/South Sudan issues. Haile Tilahun Gebremariam, the head of UNISFA, is expected to brief on the mission’s activities, while Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios will brief via video teleconference from Addis Ababa on Sudan/South Sudan issues. A briefing by Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director on the human rights situation in South Sudan, originally planned for this afternoon but subsequently postponed, is expected to take place tomorrow afternoon under “any other business.” (Please see our 6 July What’s in Blue story on this issue.)
Gebremariam’s briefing comes six days ahead of the scheduled adoption of a resolution renewing the mandate of UNISFA, which expires on 15 July. (At press time, the draft had yet to be circulated to the full Council by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, but it appeared that members might receive the draft tomorrow afternoon for an initial read-through.) The Secretary-General’s 16 June report on the situation in Abyei recommended a six-month extension of the mission’s mandate.
In addition to Sudan/South Sudan relations and the domestic challenges facing Sudan, the political process in South Sudan is expected to be among the topics discussed by Menkerios. It appears that the US is planning to circulate a draft presidential statement in the coming days, as South Sudan marks its 4th anniversary as the world’s newest state on 9 July. It seems the statement may be reflective and somber in tone and focus on the need for progress on the political track in South Sudan, amidst the deteriorating human rights, humanitarian and security situation.
Regarding the situation in Abyei, one key issue that is likely to be raised is the status of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which UNISFA is mandated to support. In his recent UNISFA report, the Secretary-General stated that the UN’s investment in the JBVMM “cannot continue if the parties do not invest themselves in the success of this mechanism.” During an informal meeting on 1 July, representatives of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations told Council members that neither Sudan nor South Sudan has exhibited the political will required for the JBVMM to function effectively. They highlighted the four conditions that need to be met for the JBVMM to be effective, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report. First, the parties have to agree on the boundaries of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ). Second, they need to recommence negotiations on border demarcation. Third, their Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) should convene regularly for discussions on political and security issues of mutual concern. Fourth, the parties should permit unhindered movement for JBVMM personnel, without restrictions on its aerial and ground patrols, or hostile action against its personnel and assets. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may be interested in Gebremariam’s views on whether the parties can be induced to take these measures. They may also solicit his input on the ongoing viability of the JBVMM and the mission’s role in supporting it, short of a commitment by the parties to its success.
Ongoing efforts by UNISFA to promote security in Abyei and to foster reconciliation between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities may be a topic of discussion. (In the context of Abyei, the Misseriya is generally supported by the government of Sudan, while the Ngok-Dinka has close ties to the government of South Sudan.) In this sense, there may be interest in learning whether plans have been made to reschedule a meeting of traditional leaders of these groups. (Such a meeting had been planned for 20-24 June in Addis Ababa, but failed to take place after South Sudanese community leaders asked for a postponement.) One of the main issues expected to be discussed at this meeting is the May 2013 assassination of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief Deng Kuol Deng by a Misseriya assailant, which has caused considerable friction between the two groups.
Council members are likely to reiterate their concerns over the lack of progress on a number of issues in Abyei. One area of particular concern is the inability of Sudan and South Sudan to establish temporary administrative units—the Abyei Area Council, the Abyei Area administration, and the Abyei Police Force—in the region, thus creating an administrative and security vacuum. Another ongoing source of worry is the potential instability caused by the presence of Sudanese police at the Diffra oil facility in northern Abyei and of South Sudanese troops in the southern part of the region, both in violation of numerous Security Council resolutions.
Menkerios in his briefing may describe efforts to revitalise the mediation process in Sudan, which has reached an impasse. On 2 July, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan called for the “national dialogue” process to recommence, but key opposition parties and rebel groups are wary of the government’s intentions, especially since government officials failed to attend a “preparatory meeting” scheduled for 30 and 31 March to discuss the dialogue process before the April presidential elections. Meanwhile, in recent months, fighting has continued to rage between government and rebel forces in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, with devastating impact on civilians.
With respect to Sudan-South Sudan relations, Menkerios may address reports of aerial bombardment by Sudan across the border in Maban and Renk counties of South Sudan in mid-June, as well as allegations made by Sudan and South Sudan that they are supporting rebels on each other’s territory. There may be interest in learning more about the political dynamics in both countries that are fueling these activities.
Menkerios may also provide an update on the political process in South Sudan. Some members have indicated that they would like up-to-date information on recent developments, their significance to the potential for the peace process to move forward, as well as a preview of potential next steps. In this respect, members may want to receive information on the preparations for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-Plus summit planned for later this month in Addis Ababa. (To support IGAD’s mediation, the sub-regional body has been joined by other actors—the AU, in addition to Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa; the EU; China; the Troika countries [Norway, the UK and the US]; and the UN—in an effort to exert additional leverage on the parties.) Members may inquire how the different actors in this reconfigured mediation process will coordinate their efforts and what their respective roles might be. Another question that may be raised is whether the reappointment of Pagan Amum—one of the high-ranking officials detained by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at the onset of the crisis but subsequently released—as Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) will have any impact on promoting reconciliation within the SPLM.