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Sudan crisis has ‘effectively put on hold’ political dispute over Abyei

“With the conflict in Sudan, the conditions are not conducive for talks on the final status of Abyei. The progress that was made [earlier this year] unfortunately was not something that we could build upon,” Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Horn of Africa, told ambassadors.

“Key Sudanese and South Sudanese leaders have not expressed the desire to engage on these topics,” she added.

The Abyei area, which is rich in oil resources, straddles the border between Sudan and South Sudan, and is claimed by both sides. The Security Council first authorized a peacekeeping force there in June 2011, a few weeks before South Sudan became the world’s youngest independent nation.

Ms. Tetteh noted that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is fighting the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Sudan, is now getting closer to Abyei, controlling parts of the border with South Sudan.

Nevertheless, representatives of the Abyei communities, well aware of the adverse consequences of the fighting on the prospect of resuming talks, expressed the need to keep the Abyei issue on the UN and African Union’s agenda, she added.

Increased displacements in Abyei

Also briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said the Sudan crisis compounds the challenges in Abyei, including an influx of civilians fleeing the fighting.

“The UN Mission [there] has also seen increased weapons circulation in Abyei, a situation that may have been exacerbated by the situation in the Sudan,” he told ambassadors.

“The conflict has also created economic hardship for the population of Abyei as the flow of basic goods and commodities, many of which came from the north, has been disrupted.”

The UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has helped extend humanitarian support to an estimated 220,000 people in the central and southern parts of Abyei, including those displaced in intercommunal clashes and those fleeing the fighting in the Sudan.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefs members the Security Council.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefs members the Security Council.

New reality for Mission

Mr. Lacroix said UNISFA has had to adjust its deployment routes and supply arrangements “in line with the new reality”.

Over the past six months, UNISFA personnel were attacked on three occasions, leading to some injuries, he added, noting that investigations into the attacks are ongoing.

The fighting has also created challenges for the UNIFSA-supported Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which ensures peace in the demilitarized zone along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, Mr. Lacroix said.

“While aerial patrolling has been halted due to airspace restrictions, JBVMM personnel remain in place and ground monitoring in the border area continues.”

Continuing challenge

The presence of approximately 200 South Sudan People’s Defence Force and South Sudan National Police Service personnel in southern Abyei, and an estimated 60 Sudanese police officers protecting oil assets in northern Abyei, pose a continuing challenge for the UNISFA, Mr. Lacroix said.

“These presences, which are in contradiction with the Mission’s mandate and the demilitarized and weapons-free status of Abyei, have also resulted in restrictions on UNISFA’s freedom of movement,” he said, calling on authorities to withdraw their personnel.

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