UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council agreed unanimously late Monday that the stalemate between Sudan and South Sudan over the status of the oil-rich region of Abyei has gone on for too long and gave the countries a final six months to implement joint border monitoring.
A U.N. peacekeeping mission has been in Abyei since June 2011 and the council also voted to reduce its military ceiling to 4,791 troops. It was 5,326 in October.
The council’s unanimous actions reflected the Trump administration’s determination to reform the U.N.’s far-flung peacekeeping operations and take action when missions aren’t able to carry out their mandates.
Sudan’s north and south fought a civil war that lasted decades and killed some 2 million people. It ended with a 2005 peace deal that required both sides to peacefully resolve the final status of oil-rich border region of Abyei, and gave the south the right to hold a self-determination vote.
It voted overwhelmingly to secede in January 2011 and six months later South Sudan became an independent nation — but the future of Abyei has remained unresolved.
The Security Council on Monday urged the governments of Sudan and South Sudan “to resume direct negotiations in order to urgently agree on a final settlement of the Abyei question” and establish an administration and council for the disputed region.
The resolution expressed renewed concern at “the delays and stalled efforts to fully operationalize” the Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mechanism. It also called on both parties to uphold their commitments in a July 2011 agreement, including to resume border demarcation discussions.
U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison told the council that five years of obstacles to deploy the joint border monitoring operation “is enough.”
“Regrettably, since 2011 the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have consistently lacked commitment to engage in the work necessary to resolve Abyei’s final status” and to establish interim measures they previously agreed on to jointly administer and police the area, Sison said.
Sison said U.N. peacekeeping operations must be effective and the U.S. welcomed the Security Council’s decision to give the two countries a final six months to make the monitoring operation fully functional.
South Sudan’s ambassador, Joseph Moum Malok, told the council that the U.N. peacekeeping mission “is the best thing that has happened to Abyei in its long history of struggle” toward promoting peace and stability.
He warned that withdrawal of U.N. support for the monitoring operation “will negatively impact” implementation of the agreement between the two countries “by emboldening each side to take a more combative posture along the border.” He also warned that this “may lead to proxy conflicts along the South Sudan-Sudan border.”
But Malok said South Sudan is encouraged by the recent improvement in relations with Sudan and expressed hope that this can lead to greater cooperation including on Abyei.
Sudan Charge d’affaires Magdi Ahmed Mofadal told the council that to activate the border monitoring mechanism South Sudan has to keep its commitments “in order to create the safe, demilitarized border zone.”
He said the Sudanese government is committed to implementing the decisions of political meetings in Addis Ababa on Abyei on Sunday and Monday. He expressed hope that they “will constitute a new start to normalize relations between the two countries, and to address any concerns, especially security concerns.”
“We call on our brothers in South Sudan to engage seriously with the government of the Sudan and with the African Union to create the Abyei institutions provided for in the agreement of June 2011 in order to determine the final status of the area,” Mofadal said.