UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (27 October), the Security Council will receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which covers the period from 15 April to 3 October. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa Hanna Serwaa Tetteh are expected to brief. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
For more than ten years, Sudan and South Sudan have made no significant progress in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along their shared border. Despite improved relations between the two countries in recent years, Sudan and South Sudan appear more focused on their internal affairs, including developments following the 25 October 2021 military coup d’état in Sudan and ongoing challenges faced by South Sudan.
The security and political situations in Abyei are an expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report expresses concern that the parties have not held a meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) since 2017 but welcomes the intention expressed by both countries in June to hold such a meeting in the “near future” and notes that they have requested UN support in this regard. (The AJOC is a body tasked with overseeing security issues in Abyei, comprised of UNISFA’s force commander and representatives from Sudan, South Sudan and the AU.) Council members may be interested in hearing any updates on progress towards the holding of such a meeting as well as details of the UN’s support in this regard
According to the Secretary-General’s report, the security situation remained “mostly calm, with some incidents of concern”, including 19 direct attacks against civilians, which reportedly resulted in the deaths of 28 people. Pobee may also highlight that during the reporting period, UNISFA troops were attacked on seven occasions. In a 26 September statement, UNISFA expressed alarm over renewed clashes between the Twic Dinka and Ngok Dinka communities in Agok in the Sector South area, 28 kilometres from Abyei town. On 14 October, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) issued a statement expressing grave concern about violent clashes between Twic Dinka and Ngok Dinka youths in the border area between Abyei and Warrap State. The statement notes that hostilities “started in February…over the disputed border, with a lull in June, but saw a violent resumption in late September”, which resulted in deaths, injuries, the burning of property and “the mass displacement of thousands of civilians on both sides”.
In relation to UNISFA, Pobee is likely to present figures on the status of the mission’s reconfiguration. Last year, tensions in the region affected the mission, which included calls from Sudan for the replacement of all Ethiopian troops. (From the mission’s establishment in 2011 until earlier this year, Ethiopia had been UNISFA’s sole troop-contributing country.) The Secretary-General’s report says that the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s military component is approaching completion, including the arrival of 570 troops from Pakistan, 570 troops from Ghana (67 of whom are hospital staff), a 77-troop headquarters support unit from Nepal, and 184 troops of the Military Engineering Company from Viet Nam. Additionally, 307 out of the 570 Indian troops have arrived, as well as 86 members from China of the military utility helicopter unit.
Regarding the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border, the Secretary-General’s report says that all 491 troops from Bangladesh have been deployed. As outlined in the report, all Ethiopian troops have been repatriated, except for a three-person rear party which is remaining with contingent-owned equipment that has yet to be repatriated due to tensions near the Ethiopia-Sudan border, as well as “some who chose to remain in the Sudan”.
The Secretary-General’s report provides updates on several long-standing issues, which Pobee may reference in her briefing, in particular that:
- Sudan has not permitted the deployment of 98 out of 148 individual police officers, and there has been no progress in the deployment of the three formed police units authorised in resolution 2469 of 14 May 2019;
- the civilian deputy head of mission requested in resolution 2469 has not been appointed;
- no progress has been made on the usage of the Anthony airstrip, which is crucial for medical evacuation; and
- 91 visas remain pending for personnel to support the implementation of the mission’s mandate.
Members are likely to be interested in hearing more from Tetteh about the activities of her office and the role played by the AU, including the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), which is chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Tetteh, who was appointed in February and briefed the Council for the first time on the issue on 21 April, may inform the Council of the respective consultations that she and Mbeki conducted in August with the leadership of the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities on the way forward regarding the final status of Abyei, as noted in the Secretary-General’s report. Members may wish to hear more about the outcome of these consultations and envisioned next steps.
On 29 September, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) held a meeting on the political and security situations in the Abyei region. Following the meeting, the AUPSC adopted a communiqué, which reiterated its call for Sudan and South Sudan to accelerate the implementation of the 2011 Agreement on Temporary Security and Administrative Arrangements for the Abyei Administrative Area, particularly in finalising the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration, the Abyei Area Council, and the Abyei Police Service. Among other things, the communiqué expressed deep concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation; requested the AU Commission (the AU’s secretariat) to nominate a facilitator for the AJOC to assist it in carrying out its functions; and decided that the AUPSC will undertake a field mission to Abyei, although a date was not specified.
Council members agree on the important roles that UNISFA and the JBVMM play in supporting peace, security and stability in Abyei and the broader region. However, many members are critical of the lack of progress by Sudan and South Sudan in resolving the final status of Abyei and over the many long-standing issues outlined above. The US, as penholder on Abyei, and other members may reiterate these positions tomorrow.
Looking ahead, the Council expects to renew the mandate of UNISFA as well as the mission’s support to the JBVMM before their expiration on 15 November. The Council last renewed UNISFA’s mandate with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2630 on 12 May. The resolution did not make any changes to the force’s mandate or structure. (For more information, see our 11 May What’s in Blue story.)