Although the overall security situation in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan has remained calm, the “trust deficit” between the two main communities continues to be a great concern, UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council on Thursday.
Mr. Lacroix briefed on the work of UNISFA, the UN Interim Security Force in the oil-rich border area, urging the Council to extend its mandate for another six months, through 15 October.
The Force has supported dialogue between the nomadic Misseriya and pastoral Ngok Dinka communities, including to address incidents of violence that occurred in recent months.
Last week alone, 29 people were killed, and 30 wounded, in intercommunal clashes.
“These deaths and injuries could have been avoided had there been more trust between the two communities at all levels,” said Mr. Lacroix.
While UNISFA has continued its community engagement, stepped up patrols, and encouraged use of conflict resolution mechanisms, “it is – first and foremost – for the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan to renew their engagement on the final status of Abyei,” he added.
Mr. Lacroix urged ambassadors to continue to support the Abyei Joint Programme to promote areas of shared interest for the two communities, such as transhumance, border management, and protection mechanisms for women, children and vulnerable groups.
Progress and challenges
Significant progress has been made since the programme was proposed in September, and consultations with women, youth, elders and other community members are now at an advanced stage.
UNISFA continues to face challenges in documenting human rights violations due to a lack of expertise, Mr. Lacroix said, although a team was granted temporary visas in order to conduct an assessment mission last month.
“There was also small but important progress with regard to the Parties’ obligations towards improving the meaningful participation of women in decision-making: in the Ngok Dinka community, a woman was appointed in each of the 13 traditional courts,” he added.
Humanitarian situation deteriorating
Mr. Lacroix further reported that the humanitarian situation in Abyei has deteriorated since his last briefing in October, with the number of people requiring aid rising from 103,000 to 240,000.
This was largely due to deadly violence between Twic Dinka and Ngok Dinka communities earlier in the year that left more than 25 people dead, including two humanitarian workers.
UNISFA also supports a Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which ensures peace in the demilitarized zone along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
A new force is present in JBVMM locations that are operational and is ready to work in all areas previously agreed by the parties.
Mr. Lacroix concluded by emphasizing the need to ensure the safety and security of UNISFA peacekeepers. Patrols suffered three direct attacks in the past two months alone, including one last week that involved a rocket-propelled grenade.
Progress on outstanding issues
The Council was also briefed by the new UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Hannah Serwaa Tetteh, who also underlined the need to settle the final status of Abyei.
Addressing progress on outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan, she reported that momentum had decreased in the wake of the October 2021 coup in Khartoum, though preparations are underway for further engagement.
Ms. Tetteh said South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, and Sudan's military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, have agreed to focus on cooperation along the border, starting with an approach to peace through development of “unitized” oil fields, including in Abyei.
“Pending details to be worked out by the respective foreign ministries of what ‘unitization’ entails, it is hoped that the proposed approach to peace may be a starting point not only for addressing the recurrent violence in the Abyei area, but also towards the settlement of the final status of Abyei,” she said.