|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6542nd Meeting (PM)
Top Peacekeeping Officials, Briefing Security Council, Stress Need
to Avoid ‘Acrimonious’ Split between Northern, Southern Sudan
Representatives of Both Sides Differ over Need
For United Nations Mission’s Continuing Presence as Abyei Tensions Simmer
With several vexing issues needing resolution before a peaceful separation could occur in Sudan, senior United Nations officials briefed the Security Council today on the necessity of avoiding “an acrimonious divorce with lasting consequences” as they discussed the fate of the world body’s six-year-old mission in the country, whose mandate was set to expire on 9 July, the day on which the Government of South Sudan was poised officially to declare independence from Khartoum.
Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Haile Menkerios, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), were joined by Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman (Sudan) and a representative of the Government of South Sudan, who both cited their respective concerns regarding the situation in Abyei, the oil-rich region straddling the border between the two sides, as well as their differing views on the need for a continuing United Nations presence.
Providing Council members with a comprehensive overview of the current political, security and humanitarian situation, Mr. Le Roy said that, the security mechanisms agreed by the parties, and implemented with assistance from UNMIS, had allowed them to address relevant concerns in a peaceful manner, thereby largely avoiding armed hostilities during the interim period. “While much has been achieved, some key [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] issues remain outstanding,” he emphasized, adding that chief among them were the status of Abyei, the conclusion of the popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States and demarcation of the North-South border.
The parties were negotiating the remaining Comprehensive Peace Agreement and post-secession issues as a package, he continued, describing the questions of Abyei and oil-wealth sharing as “the two most critical political and economic issues under discussion”. A positive development, however, was the parties’ signing, just the day before, of a joint paper on border security, which agreed on the establishment of a common border zone and the architecture required for its joint management. On the other hand, agreement on a third-party mechanism to help the parties implement the 2005 accords remained outstanding, he added.
In that context, the security situation in Abyei had been a concern for some months, he said, recalling that following clashes in early January, the parties had signed the Kadugli Agreements, which included provisions on security and migration concerns. On 4 March, the parties had further agreed to withdraw all armed elements from the area, except the Joint Integrated Units and the Joint Integrated Police Units. While containing the security situation over some months, the Sudanese Government had not withdrawn its “oil police”, the Popular Defence Force or Misseriya militias, he pointed out, noting also that the Government of South Sudan had not withdrawn police elements unilaterally deployed from Juba since 2010, or those locally recruited in the Abyei area.
Meanwhile, UNMIS had observed a build-up of armed elements from both sides, he said, adding that a number of incidents had been reported. They included an attack by South Sudan police on a Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) Joint Inspection Unit convoy on 1 May at Todach, in which 11 Sudanese soldiers had been killed. On 10 May, an UNMIS patrol had been attacked by armed Misseriya near Diffra, which had left four peacekeepers injured. On 19 May, a Sudanese Armed Forces convoy escorted by UNMIS had been attacked in an area controlled by the South Sudan police, resulting in injuries to two Sudan Armed Forces personnel. Further, Sudanese forces and Misseriya militia had since 3 May blocked key roads linking the North to the South, inflicting hardship on the civilian population along the Southern side of the border.
“As the Council is aware, the SAF launched an offensive and captured Abyei town on 21 May,” he said, adding that by 22 May, they had taken control of the area up to the Kiir/Bahr el Arab River. The town’s civilian population had fled the area before the attack, and an estimated 40,000 or more people had been displaced by the fighting in and around Abyei town. Further, on 21 May, President Omer al-Bashir had issued two decrees disbanding Abyei area institutions and reliving its officials of their positions.
He went on to say that the attack on Abyei had been accompanied by large-scale looting and burning of property, including the World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse, by Misseriya and Popular Defence Forces elements. Assurances that such activities would cease had not been met, he added. However, humanitarian organizations were addressing the needs of the displaced, food and emergency items were being distributed and medical and nutritional screenings were taking place in 11 health posts and 7 nutrition centres in Warrap State. WFP was currently feeding some 35,000 internally displaced persons, and other relief groups were reporting a return movement into the area. UNMIS had received reports that both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) were building up troops in Southern Kordofan, stressing that UNMIS and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would monitor the area closely and keep the Council informed of any developments.
Mr. Le Roy stressed that good neighbourly relations between North and South remained the overarching condition for peace and stability in Sudan and the region. There was an urgent need for the parties to address the outstanding issues as soon as possible, and in the absence of agreement, the only forums available for resolving the security issues were the mechanisms established under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and supported by UNMIS. Indeed, it was in that context that the Secretary-General had urged the parties and the Council to consider a technical rollover of UNMIS, which would have provided for a transition period until the parties reached a settlement and set up the requisite implementation mechanisms.
He went on to state that while the Government of South Sudan had expressed willingness to discuss such a rollover, in a meeting in the morning, Sudan’s Permanent Representative had handed the Secretary-General a letter from his Foreign Minister indicating that UNMIS’ mandate should not continue beyond 9 July 2011. In light of that decision, the United Nations stood ready to deploy a mission in South Sudan, he said. “In the meantime, it is imperative that both parties respect the terms of the Kadugli Agreements, refrain from taking offensive military action and work in an open and flexible manner with the African Union High Level Panel towards finding a lasting solution for Abyei and all other pending issues.”
Mr. Menkerios agreed that the prospects for consolidating peace between North and South would remain contingent on the relationship they established with each other, emphasizing that such a relationship would largely be shaped by the agreements they reached on residual Comprehensive Peace Agreement issues and post-separation arrangements. “I therefore cannot stress enough the critical nature of the ongoing negotiations on these issues, and the responsibility that rests on the leaders of the two sides to reach agreements that will provide the foundation for peace and security in Sudan, South Sudan and the region as a whole,” he said, adding: “And there is no time to lose.”
It was essential that the leaders of both sides demonstrate the political will to find solutions and agree on mechanisms for their implementation, with particular focus on a border-management mechanism and a lasting solution for Abyei. So far, although there had been some progress on those issues, lingering disagreements on others and the worsening situation in Abyei threatened a further deterioration in relations that could hamper the establishment of two viable States at peace within and between themselves, he warned. “That would negatively affect the entire region, thus constituting a continuing threat to international peace and security the international community had invested so much to avoid.” The international community must remain vigilant in the months and days ahead “to avoid an acrimonious divorce with lasting consequence”.
Mr. Osman (Sudan) said his Government’s implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement showed it was “the wiser partner”, adding that, through its positive actions, the completion of the peace process was in sight. He reiterated his appreciation of the United Nations role in supporting the Agreement’s implementation, and reasserted that the transitional period ending on 9 July was important as a date to terminate the Mission in North Sudan, in accordance with the Agreement, Council resolutions and Sudanese law. He went on to point out that the Sudanese Government had sent the Secretary-General a letter to that effect, in response to his suggestion of a three-month technical extension of UNMIS. Any attempts to justify the continuation of the Mission would “not be right”, he emphasized, adding that the settlement of pending issues must take place at the negotiating table.
He said the Sudanese Government had often appealed for assistance to settle outstanding issues, including that of Abyei. The recent events there were “bound to happen” following the incidents of mid-March in which Sudanese troops had been killed and the Government had exercised restraint. The Southern Government had not complied with the agreement to evacuate all forces from the Abyei area, and had instead kept its forces there, which had resulted in a kidnapping as well as attacks on Northern merchants, he said. The aggression had not stopped there, he continued, adding that Southern forces had attacked the Joint Integrated Units as well as UNMIS on 19 May, leading to the deaths of 22 soldiers and many more injuries. “The time came to put a limit to the killing of all those soldiers,” he said, stressing that the Sudanese Government had exercised restraint and acted wisely.
The Sudanese military presence in Abyei was limited, and would last until an agreement was signed to secure an end to such attacks, he continued. An agreement was needed to end the presence of forces belonging to both sides. Sudanese forces could not be called occupiers since the movement of troops from one area of the country to another could not be called occupation. At the same time, he reiterated the Government’s willingness to settle all outstanding issues, no matter how many violations the South ran up. The ultimate objective was to usher in a cooperative relationship between North and South, he stressed.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkouth, representing the Government of South Sudan, confirmed its request for a continued United Nations presence in the South following its declaration of independence on 9 July, and concurred with the Secretary-General’s premise that such a presence must be seen in the context of North-South security arrangements. Indeed, the overriding priority was to ensure continuing United Nations support for North-South security arrangements, especially at the border, he stressed. “Recent events have demonstrated how great a challenge this will be.”
Welcoming the progress made by the parties in Addis Ababa the day before on establishing an agreed security framework in that regard, he said recent events showed, however, that external support was required for such a framework, and that the United Nations was best placed to provide it. The main objective now should be to avoid a security vacuum after 9 July, he said, adding that the United Nations might need to plan for the possibility that peacekeepers would need to be deployed only on the Southern side of the future border. Monitoring that border, however, would require more troops than the 7,000 recommended by the Secretary-General, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations must do everything necessary to promote the security of both States.
The security issue was paramount given the occupation of Abyei by the Sudanese Armed Forces, he continued, describing it as the most serious violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement yet. “The Security Council must intervene swiftly and decisively,” he said, calling on the 15-member body to condemn Sudan’s action and demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Sudanese forces. UNMIS and humanitarian agencies must be allowed full access to the area, consistent with Khartoum’s legal obligations, he added.
He expressed his Government’s regret over the 19 May exchange of fire between the two armed forces, which had threatened a United Nations convoy and resulted in the loss of life, saying he supported the call for a joint investigation and pledging full cooperation. Those responsible must be brought to justice, he said, stressing, however, that the event was not connected with Sudan’s actions, nor did it justify them in any way. Given the “serious humanitarian consequences” of those actions, it was regrettable that United Nations peacekeeping forces, with their robust mandate to protect civilians, had reportedly remained inside their compound during the attack, while Abyei had been torched as thousands fled and an influx of Arab Misseriya people entered the area. “This attempt to alter Abyei’s demography by force must be condemned by the Council in the strongest terms.”
Calling for the reopening of the border to allow the displaced to return as well as access for humanitarian organizations, he also condemned in the strongest terms President Bashir’s decrees attempting to dissolve the Abyei Administrative Council. The Administration must be reinstated immediately, and the interim administrative arrangements kept in place until a mutually acceptable solution was found. Until the holding of the required referendum, which had been stalled by Khartoum, Abyei belonged neither to North or South, he said, pointing out that his Government had accepted the binding arbitration on the issue, which must be implemented. The Council must acknowledge that Khartoum had a history of making agreements over Abyei and then failing to honour them, he noted.
He also appealed to Council members to urge the National Congress Party to reach a definitive and binding agreement, and to work with the Government of South Sudan to finalize implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which had specific means to resolve the issues surrounding Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Similarly, the North could not withdraw its consent for UNMIS to monitor the Agreement’s implementation before all its obligations were fulfilled, he stressed. In any case, the United Nations should move forward with the establishment of a peace-consolidation mission in South Sudan as of 9 July, he said, adding that the proposed advance planning team should start its work immediately. If there was no agreement on a continued international presence in the border areas, the mission’s mandate may need to include a border-monitoring component in the South, he added.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
The Security Council had before it the special report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan (document S/2011/314), submitted pursuant to Council resolution 1978 (2011), by which the Council expressed its readiness to consider the request by the Government of Southern Sudan for a continued United Nations presence following the expected declaration of independence on 9 July 2011, and signalled its intention to establish a successor to the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) in the South.
Urging the parties and the Council to consider a three-month technical rollover of UNMIS, from 9 July to 9 October, the report says the Mission would begin downsizing its presence in Khartoum during that period, while focusing on helping the parties maintain calm, and seeking a resolution of outstanding issues under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the January referendum, including a mutually acceptable border-monitoring arrangement.
The report notes that the Secretary-General closely considered the possibility of a simultaneous technical rollover of UNMIS and establishment of a new operation in South Sudan, but came to the conclusion that United Nations support in resolving security issues would be most effectively maintained through a single political and military command, since many of the security issues affecting South Sudan are directly related to the bilateral security issues that the North and South must address together.
According to the report, the Secretary-General plans to report to the Council early in September on the parties’ progress on outstanding issues, noting that the recommendations set out above are contingent upon the parties reaching agreement in the next three months. If that does not happen, they must at least establish mechanisms to replace the security framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. As for the proposed new operation, the report says the United Nations must change the nature of its assistance to the South following independence.
The Secretary-General goes on to announce his intention to send an advance senior management team to set up the core capabilities of a new mission with a military strength of 7,000 deployed across the South, in order support the new State as it undertakes peace-consolidation and capacity-building efforts. Meanwhile, the United Nations country team, which has the lead role on long-term capacity-building and development activities, would immediately commence such efforts.
He says he expects the military component of UNMIS in South Sudan to remain as it is currently configured while the Department of Peacekeeping Operations works to secure the capabilities needed to carry out the mandate of any new mission. Given that further developments will affect security issues, the Department will continue to monitor the situation closely, while adjusting the military concept of operations and the recommended authorized strength accordingly.
* *** *For information media • not an official record