Briefing Security Council on Abyei, Under-Secretary-General Underlines Positive Developments in Sudan, South Sudan Relations, Details Force Adjustment

SC/13513
20 September 2018
8357th Meeting (AM)

Briefing Security Council on Abyei, Under-Secretary-General Underlines Positive Developments in Sudan, South Sudan Relations, Details Force Adjustment

Speakers in the Security Council today said a relatively stable security situation in Abyei makes it time to consider adjustments to the United Nations peacekeeping force there.  Many stressed, however, that changes to its composition and mission must be preceded by thorough consultations with Khartoum and Juba.

With the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) up for renewal on 15 October, the Council discussed the Secretary‑General’s recommendations — contained in a letter dated 23 August — for adjusting its composition to the current realities on the ground.

[Through its resolution 2412 (2018), unanimously adopted on 23 April, the Council made the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate conditional to progress by the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan on a set of benchmarks related to border demarcation.  At the same time, it kept the Force’s authorized troop ceiling at 4,791, decreasing to 4,250 after 15 October unless the Council extends its mandate modification.]

Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that, despite only partial fulfilment of the benchmarks, the past few months saw several positive developments in relations between Sudan and South Sudan.  He urged the Council to consider the Secretary‑General’s recommendations for UNISFA as the Force supports the two Governments in implementing the two temporary agreements that form the basis of its mandate:  the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement on temporary arrangements for the administration and security of the Abyei Area of 20 June 2011 and the Agreement on the Border Monitoring Support Mission between the Government of the Sudan and the Government of South Sudan of 30 July 2011.

Outlining the key elements of the proposed adjustment, he said UNISFA troops will be transferred from the Abyei Area to enable the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism — a vital part of the framework that regulates the relations between Sudan and South Sudan — to achieve full operating capability.  Three formed police units and additional specialized police officers will meanwhile be deployed in the Abyei Area in response to growing criminality.

Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, briefing the Council for the last time before taking up his new appointment as Special Envoy for Somalia, said regional developments — including Ethiopia‑Eritrea rapprochement and peer pressure to deal with conflicts to boost development, economic integration and security — have given rise to hope.  Khartoum’s efforts to mediate in the conflict in South Sudan is another positive factor, he added.  On UNISFA, he said the provision of political depth to the Force will enable it to better manage intercommunal relations pending a final solution.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Ethiopia — the principal troop‑contributing country to UNISFA — said stability in Abyei hinges on the Force’s presence.  In that regard, he said transferring troops from the Abyei box to the Mechanism is “not the right approach”.  He also cautioned against the deployment of police forces at the expense of troop levels.  Recalling that “consent of concerned parties is a basic principle of peacekeeping”, he called for full engagement with all relevant stakeholders, particularly the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan.

Kuwait’s delegate, describing UNISFA as “one of the best United Nations peacekeeping missions”, said the renewal of its mandate should be in line with its role and achievements.  Technical issues such as troop strength can be discussed by Council members in the coming weeks.  Commending the current positive state of relations between Sudan and South Sudan, he insisted that future steps should be based on consultations with the two countries.

The representative of China, stressing that a political solution is the only way forward in Abyei, said the international community should help Sudan and South Sudan to develop good‑neighbourly relations and strengthen pragmatic cooperation, with the African Union and other regional organizations remaining the principal channels for mediation.  Noting the Secretary‑General’s recommendations, he said the Secretariat should coordinate with the two Governments, African Union and the Force’s troop‑contributing countries and fully heed their views.

The United States’ representative said the time has come to reconfigure the Force to reflect conditions on the ground.  However, while the Secretary‑General’s recommendations are a good start, they do not go far enough, he said, proposing a reduction in overall uniformed personnel.  Urging the African Union to continue its mediation efforts, he said the United Nations must apply its scarce resources to the tasks at hand and question whether those tasks are necessary.  Peacekeeping operations must have exit strategies, he emphasized.

The representative of South Sudan, welcoming the Force’s success in recent years — particularly in averting further confrontation — said proposed adjustments to its mandate will “add more dimensions to a sustainable peace across border and between communities” in Abyei.  He expressed support for keeping the Force, while enhancing its police element.

However, Sudan’s representative rejected the Secretary‑General’s recommendations, which he said ran counter to the 2011 agreement and the negotiated arrangements.  In fact, the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan must approve any changes to those arrangements, he emphasized, adding that a holistic approach is needed to address the latest developments on the ground, and that his Government will continue to work with UNISFA to fulfil its mission.

Also speaking today were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Poland, China, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom and Russian Federation.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:44 a.m.

Briefings

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council on the support being given by the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and the progress being made by the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan towards implementing the benchmarks set out in Council resolution 2412 (2018).  He also elaborated on the Secretary‑General’s recommendations for the Force’s reconfiguration (document S/2018/778).  He said that despite only partial fulfilment of those benchmarks, the past few months saw several other positive developments in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, including efforts undertaken by the former in facilitating talks between the South Sudanese parties in Khartoum.  In that regard, he urged the Council to consider the Secretary‑General’s recommendations to adjust UNISFA to the current realities so as best to support the two Governments in their efforts to implement their agreements.

Emphasizing that the Monitoring Mechanism remains a vital part of the framework that regulates the relations between Sudan and South Sudan, he asked the Council to consider a modest adjustment of the Force’s mandate within current resources.  Doing so will provide UNISFA with the ability to better support border demarcation efforts by the African Union Border Programme.  Providing details, he said two further sector headquarters will provide more comprehensive border region coverage.  Troops will be transferred from the Abyei Area to achieve full operating capability for the Monitoring Mechanism.  Meanwhile, three formed police units and additional specialized police officers will be deployed in the Abyei Area in response to growing criminality, within the current uniformed personnel ceiling of 4,550, he said, emphasizing that further Council engagement with the concerned parties is necessary towards agreeing on a UNISFA mandate that will serve them and their border communities.

NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Sudan and South Sudan, focusing on the negotiations on the status of Abyei, said the timely exit of UNISFA depends on finalizing arrangements.  Discussions have stalled because of civil war in South Sudan in 2013 and 2016 as well as internal predicaments in both countries and prevailing tensions between them.  However, regional developments have given rise to hope, with the Ethiopia‑Eritrea rapprochement triggering a willingness to engage to seek solutions and a pervasive peer pressure to deal with conflicts to boost development, economic integration and security.

Highlighting other positive factors, he pointed to Khartoum’s mediation efforts between parties in South Sudan and the recently signed Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  In engagements with both Governments, he said he encouraged cooperation in the oil sector and other areas of mutual benefit.  In addition, reduced intensity of both countries’ internal conflicts may enable progress on the status of Abyei and informal discussions in Khartoum are under way.

However, he continued, while the African Union’s High‑level Implementation Panel invited to host the two Foreign Ministers for talks on the sidelines of a Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting in Addis Ababa on 22 and 23 September, he said both are positive about the discussions, but unavailable to attend due to pending meetings in New York.  Yet, he hopes the talks will take place, even if to put the Abyei issue on the agenda.  On UNISFA, the provision of political depth to the Force will enable it to better manage intercommunal relations pending a final solution, he said, adding that Sudan and South Sudan acknowledged that it has contributed to the maintenance of peace and the prevention of a relapse into conflict.

Statements

TAYE A. SELASSIE (Ethiopia) said that, in stark contrast to the situation of six or seven years ago, Abyei has become a vibrant trade hub.  The general stability was created by, and requires, the presence of UNISFA.  While commending Sudan and South Sudan for making significant progress towards activating the Mechanism, he noted little has been done to implement the 2011 agreement on the administration and security of the Abyei Area.  He expressed support for a full deployment of the Mechanism and a complete implementation of the 2012 agreements for security arrangements and the border.  But transferring troops from the Abyei box to the Mechanism is “not the right approach”, he stressed, cautioning against the deployment of police forces at the expense of troop levels.  He expressed strong support for the establishment of a dedicated civilian programme and the proposed reinforcement of the Force’s civilian component, which could help relieve the troops and meet the population’s high expectations regarding humanitarian and development assistance.  Recalling that “consent of concerned parties is a basic principle of peacekeeping”, he called for a full engagement with all relevant stakeholders, particularly the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan.

BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), describing UNISFA as “one of the best United Nations peacekeeping missions”, said the renewal of its mandate should be in line with its role and achievements.  Technical issues such as troop strength can be discussed by Council members in the coming weeks.  Commending the current positive state of relations between Sudan and South Sudan, he insisted that future steps should be based on consultations with the two countries.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) expressed regret that Sudan and South Sudan have made little progress in implementing their 2012 cooperation agreement.  He also described the security situation as unstable and liable to deteriorate without a final status agreement.  He shared the Secretary‑General’s view on the need for UNISFA to keep supporting the Border Monitoring Mechanism and encouraged the two countries to do more to implement resolution 2412 (2018) and other relevant Council resolutions.  He also called on Council members to urge all parties to ensure full operationalization of the Mechanism.  Stressing that Force’s role must be adjusted to reflect the situation on the ground, he said his delegation would welcome clarification on how the African Union High‑level Implementation Panel and the Office of the Special Envoy will work together.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing concern over insufficient progress on Abyei’s final status, said his country supports the Secretary‑General’s proposals to adjust Force’s concept regarding its military, police and civilian components.  He also underscored the need to foster the nexus between peace and development in Abyei and joined the Secretary‑General in calling on donors to fund projects that focus on development and reconciliation.

VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia), noting that UNISFA is one of the Organization’s most successful missions, said current conditions on the ground require both countries to establish confidence‑building measures to achieve progress on determining the status of Abyei, with efforts undertaken in cooperation with the African Union.  Commending the Force’s efforts to reactivate the political process, she said the countries must now do their part to bolster the institutions in the area.  Praising Sudan’s role in the signing of the Revitalization Agreement, she urged both countries to cooperation to work towards resolving the Abyei issue.  In that regard, she supports the Secretary‑General’s proposal to augment the role of UNISFA.

ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France), emphasizing that the new peace accord is a cause for hope, highlighted the implementation of Council recommendations on border demarcation.  While cooperation has been seen in border patrols, more progress is needed in other areas, he said, encouraging both parties to move forward together.  In addition, he underlined the importance of strengthening the Force’s role in the political process, resolving the border dispute and boosting patrol capabilities.  Among several other suggestions, he said improving the effectiveness of UNISFA was the goal.  With regard to relations between local actors and communities, he said UNISFA must support initiatives that help in the political process.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said that seven years after the Force’s creation, parties are no closer to a political solution and the current impasse cannot be allowed to continue forever.  Efforts must aim at finding new ways forward, with UNISFA remaining a part of the path towards the normalization of relations.  He welcomed the Secretary‑General’s proposals to augment the Force’s role in the political process and commended the work of the African Union High‑level Implementation Panel.  Going forward, more needs to be done so Sudan and South Sudan can reach an agreement that addresses the underlying issues.  The Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism is a vital part of the framework regulating relations between the countries and UNISFA should have the necessary tools to undertake its mandate and address essential law and order issues and mediation opportunities.

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands), while deploring the lack of progress on border demarcation, pointed out the encouraging developments towards peace in the region.  She stressed that the majority of measures as set out in resolution 2412 (2018) have yet to be implemented.  While meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism are important, she reiterated the need for concrete progress on the implementation of the resolution’s benchmarks.  Emphasizing the importance of stability in the region and the essential role of UNISFA, she noted that it is also important to create a political space as the next step forward.  On strengthening the rule of law and accountability mechanisms, she said that the peace‑development nexus should be enhanced.  The country teams also play an important role there.  While building the rule of law in local communities, she stressed the importance of deploying female police officers while increasing the police component of the Force.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) noted the relatively stable security situation in Abyei but regretted the lack of political progress.  Emphasizing that the primary responsibility for implementing the 2011 and 2012 agreements lies with Sudan and South Sudan, she said the Council should remain unified in its message and encourage the two Governments to swiftly establish joint mechanisms, normalize border arrangements and elaborate a political solution that will create a lasting peace.  On the Force’s reconfiguration, she said that should be considered by the Council, but stressed the need to consult with the two countries as well as the African Union.

WU HAITAO (China), stressing that a political solution is the only way forward in Abyei, said the international community should help Sudan and South Sudan to develop good‑neighbourly relations and strengthen pragmatic cooperation, with the African Union and other regional organizations remaining the principal channels for mediation.  Noting the Secretary‑General’s recommendations, he said the Secretariat should coordinate with the two Governments, African Union and the Force’s troop‑contributing countries and fully heed their views.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru), expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s proposals, said expanding the Force’s role will enhance efforts to reach the goal of consolidating peace in Abyei.  Indeed, UNISFA can play a more active role, in cooperation with the African Union, in resolving border disputes, he said, noting the key function played by the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism in maintaining stable relations between the countries.  Concerned at the scant progress made in implementing resolution 2412 (2018), he said recent positive developments on the Horn of Africa will hopefully provide the necessary impetus for progress in settling the Abyei issue.  Welcoming the recommendation to deploy police units in populated areas, he said the root causes of the conflict must also be addressed.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) emphasized that the existing stability in the area must be maintained, as the people of Abyei have suffered far too long.  Concerned at internal political tensions, she said parties have not used the relative calm along the borders to produce much‑needed results.  Sudan and South Sudan must shoulder their responsibilities, as outlined in the 2012 agreement.  Meanwhile, the Council must lend its support to UNISFA, particularly in light of the tenuous humanitarian conditions.  The Force must also play a more active and proactive role in supporting a political solution with a view to resolving the Abyei issue.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) welcomed recent actions and underlined the role played by the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.  However, a lack of meeting other benchmarks is a concern.  Both Governments must focus on overcoming delays to further progress.  As such, the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and UNISFA should do their part.  Supporting the increase in the Force’s civilian personnel, he welcomed the Secretary‑General’s proposal that the military component will focus on the border area.  Despite improvements in the security situation, he remained concerned about reports of rising criminal activities.  Only a political settlement can address the underlying causes of the conflict, he said, emphasizing that the Council must ensure UNISFA is resourced appropriately.

Mr. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), welcoming improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan, and noting the overall stable situation in Abyei, said his country will like to see more regular contact between the two countries going forward.  Hopefully the African Union’s High‑level Implementation Panel will contribute to the normalization of relations.  He cautioned against scaling down the border monitoring mechanism, which could have negative impacts.  Recalling his delegation’s support for resolution 2412 (2018) which extended UNISFA’s mandate, he said it is ready to support a further extension in October.  He added that the question of reformatting UNISFA must be dealt with carefully.  Changes proposed by the Secretary‑General must be supported first by Khartoum and Juba, with the views of troop‑contributing also taken into account.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, said UNISFA has greatly contributed to calm in a contested area.  The time has come to reconfigure the Force to reflect conditions on the ground, but while the Secretary‑General’s recommendations are a good start, they do not go far enough, he said, proposing a reduction in overall uniformed personnel.  Observing that the Joint Border Monitoring Mechanism has not reached its full potential, he urged the parties to take steps to meet the Council’s benchmarks before that 15 October deadline.  The Council should not — and the United States will not — support a mechanism that lacks a full commitment to the peace process by the concerned parties.  He said the United States agrees on the need to reorient UNISFA to a police‑style operation with a strong civilian component to help both sides maintain stability, prevent intercommunal conflict and implement past agreements.  He also urged the African Union to continue its mediation efforts.  Thanking Ethiopia and others for contributing to UNISFA, he said the Organization must apply its scarce resources to the tasks at hand and question whether those tasks are necessary.  Peacekeeping operations must have exit strategies, he emphasized.

AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) said the Secretary‑General’s recommendations have been well received by the Ngok Dinka, adding that the latter sent a letter to the Council on 19 September in response.  Nevertheless, he voiced concern about the proposals related to migration police liaising with the resident Messiria community in the Abyei Area, because that practice might legitimize illegal residency and occupation of some Dinka lands in the long run, discouraging the return of Dinka internally displaced persons to their rightful lands.  Regarding benchmarks, he expressed the Government’s commitment to engaging with Khartoum to achieve them, but noted that the two sides have not been able to meet regularly for technical reasons.  Welcoming the Force’s success in recent years — particularly in averting further confrontation between the parties — he said proposed adjustments to its mandate will “add more dimensions to a sustainable peace across border and between communities” in Abyei.  He therefore expressed support for keeping the Force, while enhancing its police element.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), expressing support for UNISFA, underlined the importance of remembering the conditions and negotiations leading up to agreements in 2005 and 2011.  As stability prevails in Abyei, intercommunal cooperation is clearly the result of successful efforts among all partners.  To further consolidate stability, all parties must refrain from taking any actions that threaten current conditions.  However, he rejected the Secretary‑General’s recommendations, which ran counter to the 2011 agreement and the negotiated arrangements.  In fact, the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan must approve any changes to those arrangements.  Noting that the Joint Legislative Council and joint police services are among the essential institutions required to administer the Abyei Area, he said a holistic approach is needed to address the latest developments on the ground.  Emphasizing that Sudan has contributed to the Revitalization Agreement to resolve conflict among parties in South Sudan, he said his country will continue to work with UNISFA to fulfil its mission.

For information media. Not an official record.