Sudan and South Sudan - Security Council VTC Briefing

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26-Apr-2021 01:47:28
Warming Sudan-South Sudan ties yet to deliver ‘change on the ground’, peacekeeping chief tells Security Council, in briefing on disputed Abyei region.

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Khartoum, Juba Focused on Political Transition, Regional Dynamics, Says Special Envoy, as Delegates Highlight Rapprochement

The new rapprochement between Sudan and South Sudan has yet to translate into significant improvements on the ground in relation to their dispute over the Abyei region, the head of United Nations peacekeeping told the Security Council during a videoconference briefing today.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said the two countries agreed — during a meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism hosted by the Government of Sudan in October 2020 — to establish checkpoints, introduce search-and-seize operations, deploy joint military observer teams and accelerate progress on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, as well as border-related benchmarks.

However, the security situation and intercommunal relations in the region remain tense, he said, in presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Citing the volatile security situation, he requested that the Security Council consider a six-month rollover of UNISFA’s mandate, until 15 October 2021, in order to give Sudan and South Sudan the space to discuss future arrangements and the way forward.

He said UNISFA — established by Council resolution 1990 (2011) to include an initial deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to provide security and protect civilians under imminent threat of violence in the disputed border region — will continue to engage with Sudan and South Sudan to facilitate the implementation of pending aspects of their previous agreements. Despite inconclusive consultations on UNISFA’s exit strategy between those two Governments, that of Ethiopia and the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, all continue to recognize the mission’s usefulness, relevance and instrumental role in addressing tensions between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities through dialogue and reconciliation, he emphasized.

UNISFA has remained fully engaged with Sudan and South Sudan, despite coronavirus-linked logistical constraints, he continued, outlining the acting mission head’s recent meetings and visits with stakeholders to discuss ways to advance the peace process. Modest progress towards the seven benchmarks set out in Security Council resolution 2550 (2020) include approval by Sudan and South Sudan of all requested aerial and ground monitoring missions, he noted.

As of March, 198 COVID-19 cases were reported in the local community, with 10 confirmed deaths, he said, adding that UNISFA currently has five active positive cases. All necessary measures were established to ensure that staff comply with the rules governing the use of personal infection preventive measures, he stressed. In spite of pandemic-related constraints, United Nations agencies, in coordination with non-governmental organizations, continued to provide vital humanitarian and recovery assistance to vulnerable populations, he said, adding that 4 out of 10 border-crossing corridors are currently open and functioning.

Also briefing was Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, who noted that whereas most of the work of the United Nations has gone virtual, the daunting situation in Abyei affects real people. The pandemic continues to have health, human and socioeconomic impacts in Sudan and South Sudan, exacerbating the precarious living conditions of most people in both countries, he said, while praising the vaccination campaigns in both.

Describing his visit to Sudan, from 27 February to 2 March, to discuss an exit strategy for UNISFA, he said bilateral relations between Khartoum and Juba were also under discussion. Agreeing with the Under-Secretary-General that the two countries continue to deepen relations, he cited the visit to Juba by Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi to Juba. The two countries agreed to form joint mechanisms and reopen trade corridors to benefit their two economies by enabling the free movement of goods, services, and people, he said. Despite their improved relations, however, Sudan and South Sudan have held only limited bilateral engagements, he added, pointing out that instead, they are focused on their respective political transitions and on the fast-moving dynamics in the broader region.

He recalled that the Sudanese authorities emphasized to him the need for a mutually beneficial solution whereby Abyei would become “a soft border” and an example of peaceful coexistence, development and shared prosperity for the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities. However, Sudan’s insistence on establishing joint mechanisms contrasts with South Sudan’s rejection of joint arrangements, as each side stresses its preference for the solution proposed by the African Union High-Level Panel on the final status of Abyei, he said.

Additionally, South Sudan continues to seek accountability for the killing of the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief of Abyei and reiterates its call for the release of the African Union’s investigation report, he said. Undeniably, the current regional dynamics in the Horn of Africa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could directly impact UNISFA, he cautioned, urging both Governments to reach a peaceful resolution in light of the wider potential implications for the region.

Turning to conflict in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, he reported significant progress with the signing of the Declaration of Principles by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Chairman of the country’s Sovereignty Council, and Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North. Those guiding principles will pave the way for comprehensive formal negotiations between the transitional Government and the Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu faction in Juba on 25 May, progress achieved through the mediation of South Sudan, he noted.

However, efforts to persuade Abdel Wahid Al-Nur, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdul Wahid faction, to join the peace process were unsuccessful, he said, explaining that Al-Nur is resisting until security is established, while advocating for an intra-Sudanese dialogue to address the root causes of conflict. Progress towards resolving those conflicts and improving bilateral relations should be shielded from risks arising from the potential deterioration of the regional environment, he stressed.

During the ensuing debate, Council members encouraged Sudan and South Sudan to build on their current warming relations. Some delegates said the two national leaders must seize the present opportunity to determine Abyei’s final status and meet the aspirations of its communities. Several speakers called for renewing UNISFA’s mandate for six months to ensure that a clear, effective exit strategy is finalized.

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