What's In Blue

Posted Tue 12 Oct 2021

Sudan/South Sudan: Meeting under “Any Other Business”*  

Tomorrow (13 October), Security Council members will discuss the situation in Sudan/South Sudan under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Norway, the UK (the penholder on Sudan) and the US (the penholder on South Sudan and Sudan/South Sudan). (These three countries form the “Troika” on Sudan and South Sudan.) A representative from the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) is the expected briefer.

The focus of tomorrow’s meeting will be the situation in Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border, particularly in relation to the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which is supported by UNISFA to monitor the demilitarised zone along the Sudan-South Sudan border. The meeting was apparently requested in response to unrest in some areas in the Aweil North and Aweil East counties in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, South Sudan, including protests in August and September by local communities against the presence of UNISFA peacekeepers in the area. The mission has reportedly engaged with South Sudan on the issue, but so far without any progress towards resolving it. The DPO apparently produced two white notes setting out developments over the past month, which also contributed to the decision to request tomorrow’s meeting.

On 4 September, UNISFA released a statement expressing grave concern over the operating conditions in these areas, which led to the relocation of UN troops and the closure of the Kiir Adem and War Abar team sites.  According to the statement, on 11 August, protestors gathered outside the Sector 1 headquarters in Gok Machar—a town in Aweil North county—and demanded the withdrawal of UNISFA troops. The protestors forcibly entered the camp, resulting in the destruction and looting of UN assets. Similar protests took place on 13 August outside the War Abar team site, forcing UNISFA to relocate. On 30 August, the local community of Aweil North county demanded in writing the complete withdrawal of UNISFA and the JBVMM from Sector 1 headquarters in Gok Machar “within 48 hours”.

The 4 September UNISFA statement notes that UNISFA and the JBVMM have encountered “longstanding” difficulties in operating in these areas, including the denial of clearance for ground and aerial monitoring missions. In June, traditional chiefs in the area sent a letter to the Sector 1 headquarters at Gok Machar demanding the withdrawal of UNISFA and the JBVMM and threatening violence. Local communities also accuse UNISFA of “biased patrolling” and of siding with Sudan “to annex part of their territory”, the statement said.

In recent months, tensions in the region have also affected the mission, which is composed solely of Ethiopian troops. These include the ongoing armed confrontation in Ethiopia; escalating tensions over the eastern border in the Al-Fashaga area between Sudan and Ethiopia, which have resulted in sporadic clashes; and the dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In this context, Sudan has publicly called for the Ethiopian troops in UNISFA to be replaced, which South Sudan reportedly rejected. Ethiopia has come to recognise that conditions—including Sudan’s position—are no longer favourable for their troops to remain in Abyei.

On 8 and 9 September, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga visited Abyei. At a press briefing in New York on 17 September, Lacroix noted that UNISFA plays an instrumental role in reducing tensions between communities, while acknowledging that the continued presence of Ethiopian troops in Abyei is a source of contention. He added that if UNISFA is to continue, the current composition must be changed, and other troop-contributing countries should replace the Ethiopian contingent in the next seven months, which corresponds with the dry season.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing updates on the operational difficulties faced by UNISFA and the JBVMM. They might also be interested in information on the process of replacing the Ethiopian troops, including vetting mechanisms and engagement with potential troop-contributing countries. Looking ahead, on 27 October, the Council will receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA, which is due by 15 October. The mandate of UNISFA and the JBVMM both expire on 15 November.

*Post-script: On 15 October, Council members issued a press statement (SC/14666) following the 13 October meeting on Sudan/South Sudan under “any other business”. They reiterated their full support for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and expressed concern that the full implementation of the mission’s mandate is being obstructed. Council members further demanded that the government of South Sudan facilitate the unimpeded implementation of UNISFA’s mandate.