|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6593rd Meeting (PM)
Ethiopian Troops of New Security Force Headed for Sudan’s Disputed Abyei Area,
United Nations Peacekeeping Chief Says in Briefing to Security Council
The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations reported to the Security Council today that the initial rollout of the newly authorized security force for Abyei was under way, with some 500 Ethiopian troops headed to the disputed area straddling Northern and Southern Sudan, the flashpoint for recent violence between the two sides.
Briefing Council members exactly one month after their creation of the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that, as of yesterday, 520 of the mission’s authorized military strength of 4,200 troops had been deployed, including 411 in Abyei town and another 110 in the northern town of Diffra. A further 495 troops were in Kadugli awaiting deployment to the Abyei area, he added.
“We hope to have approximately 1,200 troops in the area of operations and to establish initial operating capability by the end of July,” he continued, recalling that in May, ahead of South Sudan’s official declaration of independence from the North, an outbreak of violence had culminated in the Sudanese Armed Forces taking control of Abyei town and the area north of the Kiir/Bahr al-Arab River. The Council had authorized UNISFA on 27 June to support an initial agreement reached by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). (For more information on UNISFA’s mandate, please see Press Release SC/10298.)
He said it was unfortunate that the deployment was facing some difficulties, as the Peacekeeping Department worked with Khartoum to clarify the use of the El Obeid logistics base, as well as personnel and assets of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) to establish UNISFA. As a result, some personnel and cargo had been stranded in Kadugli for several days and the new mission now faced critical shortages of food for the troops stationed in Abyei. The lack of sufficient accommodation was also slowing the pace of deployment and would necessitate the construction of additional housing after the rainy season ended.
Mr. Le Roy continued: “In view of the need to proceed with the speedy implementation of the 20 June agreement, we are working closely with the Government of Sudan to ensure it does its utmost to facilitate UNISFA’s deployment, including putting in place arrangements for the acquisition of land and signing a status-of-forces agreement.” He said that, although the deployment represented a positive step forward, sustained improvement in the security situation depended on progress in implementing the 20 June agreement and, eventually, the overall question of Abyei’s status. In that regard, the parties had exchanged proposals on the composition of the Abyei Area Administration, but had not yet finalized appointments. Without that, there would be no mutually accepted local authorities with whom UNISFA could liaise in the implementation of its mandate, he said.
“In the meantime, while the security situation in Abyei remains tense, both sides appear to be committed to avoiding an escalation of violence and ready to cooperate with UNISFA,” he continued. While the Sudanese Armed Forces maintained a “considerable” presence north of the Kiir/Bahr al-Arab River, they had indicated their intention to withdraw once UNISFA was deployed. Discussions on the precise timing of the withdrawal would be held once Force Commander and mission chief Lieutenant General Tadesse Werede Tesfay arrived in Abyei.
The Under-Secretary-General also reported that, on Monday, more than 100 Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers had been observed south of the river by a party of UNISFA engineers. However, following discussions with UNISFA personnel, the soldiers had pledged not to cross the river, and to withdraw once the mission was deployed, “recognizing the importance of preventing further outbreaks of violence”.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, Mr. Le Roy said an estimated 113,000 persons remained displaced, with approximately 27 currently in Agok, 40 kilometres south of Abyei, and the rest in the Republic of South Sudan. Humanitarian agencies had relocated their personnel in order to provide food, shelter and other forms of emergency aid to the displaced people. “As a result of the displacement and destruction in Abyei, [those supplies] are likely to be critical in the future,” he said, underscoring that those people who had fled their homes had indicated that significant returns were unlikely before UNISFA’s deployment and the Sudanese withdrawal. In the meantime, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was planning an assessment mission to Abyei as soon as possible to take stock of the May-June events, including allegations of rights violations.
He went on to stress that the Abyei issue was a critical component of the larger spectrum of security, political and economic issues that must be resolved between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, including demarcation and joint management of the border, the ongoing violence in Southern Kordofan State and tensions in Blue Nile State, and other outstanding post-separation arrangements. He emphasized that, while the late-June agreements on those two areas provided a useful framework for continuing negotiations, the situation in Southern Kordofan remained “particularly alarming”.
Furthermore, an agreement signed on 29 June had specific implications for UNISFA, since it had requested the mission to provide force protection for an international border monitoring and verification mission, he said. “We are currently consulting the parties in order to further refine the nature of [such a mission] and the possible force-protection role of UNISFA,” he added, noting that the Secretary-General would prepare recommendations for the Council.
“We continue to stress that UNISFA can only provide a temporary solution,” Mr. Le Roy said, noting that border disputes, wealth-sharing and citizenship arrangements “should be urgently addressed”. To that end, he urged the Council to coordinate bilateral support for both Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan with the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel and Haile Menkerios, the newly appointed Special Envoy.
He concluded by saying that the High-Level Implementation Panel planned to bring the Governments of the two countries together on 28 and 29 July at African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, for further discussions on security, as well as on transitional financial and currency arrangements.
The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and ended at 3:26 p.m.
* *** *