The top United Nations envoy to Sudan today expressed concern over the presence of armed elements in the oil-rich town of Abyei, close to the boundary between the vast African nation's north and south, ahead of next week's decision to be rendered on the dispute over the area.
Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, welcomed the renewed commitment by the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to respect the 22 July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on Abyei.
The Court began deliberations earlier this year on the demarcation of Abyei, which is being contested by the NCP and the SPLM, the two signatories to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the 21-year north-south conflict in which at least 2 million people were killed and some 4.5 million more driven from their homes.
Abyei is one of several outstanding issues related to the CPA, whose key benchmarks also include census results, border demarcation and preparations for a referendum on the final status of areas of southern Sudan.
Mr. Qazi today said he is concerned over both confirmed and reported violations of the Abyei Roadmap Area by elements other than the Joint Integrated Units (JIU) and the Joint Integrated Police Units (JIPU).
During the past two weeks, he said there have been confirmed reports of the presence of soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), as well as elements of the Southern Sudan Police Service, in the area.
“This is a clear violation of the Abyei Roadmap Agreement and could lead to escalation and violence if it remained unchecked,” the envoy said.
“All these armed groups must be immediately withdrawn to outside the area, and.. the international community [is] closely monitoring the situation in and around Abyei and expects all sides to behave in the most responsible manner in order to avoid violence.”
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) must have full freedom of movement in the broader Abyei area, Mr. Qazi said, adding that restrictions on blue helmets, “particularly at this sensitive juncture, impede the Mission from discharging its mandate effectively.”
Further, he said that the continued reports of forces and commanders in the area know to have taken part in the deadly 2008 clashes in Abyei, if confirmed, “could be particularly destructive.”
The Representative stressed that the Abyei Roadmap Agreement requires that armed elements from both sides not only stay out of the Roadmap area but redeploy further afield.
“Security in the area is to be provided only by JIU and JIPU, as they are the only mandated security bodies,” he said.
Although UNMIS is boosting its own presence in the area, Mr. Qazi emphasized that civilian protection is primarily the Government's responsibility.
The Mission “will implement its mandated obligations towards civilians under imminent physical threat within its capabilities,” he said. “However, it is the duty of the political and military leadership of both parties to the [CPA] to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the JIUs and JIPUs and to prevent unauthorized armed personnel from entering the Abyei area.”
Yesterday, the Security Council called on the NCP and SPLM to abide by next week's decision on Abyei, but voiced concern over the delay in implementation of some aspects of the CPA, “especially in regard to the preparations for the elections and the escalation of inter-communal violence,” according to a press statement.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy told reporters that UNMIS has reinforced its presence in Abyei to protect civilians in case of any incidents.
“We all expect that the implementation of this outcome should be as peaceful as possible,” he added.
In his recent report on UNMIS, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that next year's planned national elections are vital for the process of democratic transformation throughout the country, and stressed the importance of peaceful, transparent and credible polls.
He added that escalating inter-tribal violence in Southern Sudan is jeopardizing the stability of the entire country, and key milestones in implementing the CPA.