Sudan and neighbouring South Sudan “have never been closer” to reaching sustainable peace with each other and their internal armed opposition groups, the head of UN peacekeeping told the Security Council this week.
The meeting focused on the disputed, arid, oil-rich border territory of Abyei, where the UN Interim Security Force, UNISFA, helped monitor an uneasy peace without formal governance and protect civilians since 2011, in the weeks before South Sudan became independent from its northern neighbour.
Boundary lines for the ethnically split rectangle of territory have not been agreed between the two nations, but both sides agreed to allow UNISFA’s neutral presence when inter-communal fighting erupted in 2011, to foster a more secure environment, until final agreement can be reached.
UN Chief of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said there was a “continued partnership” between the two, “notwithstanding the recent change of government in Khartoum”, following the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, presenting “an opportunity to move the political process forward on border issues.”
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok made reciprocal visits to their respective capitals in the past two months, while Juba in the south also hosted peace talks between the Sudanese transitional authority and armed opposition groups since mid-October, Lacroix said.
“Both countries have never been closer to achieving sustainable peace with each other and with their armed oppositions, as they continue to support peace processes”, he told the Council.
“Building on recent positive developments in bilateral relations, the two sides need to resume direct talks to resolve outstanding provisions of agreements in relation to the final status of Abyei.
“We continue to work with the African Union, particularly the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, in support of a political process between the parties.”
The UN peacekeeping chief said UNISFA and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) “continue to play a key role in stabilising the security situation on the ground” deterring violence and some lawlessness plaguing the disputed territory.
Secretary-General António Guterres recommends the role of UNISFA “to engage in local mediation, provide political support for dialogue between the parties and fulfil protection-related tasks should be strengthened”.
He added it was “critical the only international mechanism operating in the border area is equipped with an appropriate mandate, capabilities and assets. This would send a strong signal to the parties that the UN remains committed to maintaining stability in the area”.
The UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, also briefed the Council, noting “encouraging signs of progress” in relations between the countries. He quoted Hamdok’s declaration that he wanted to restore the traditional ties between what he sees as “one people living in two States”.
Kiir is encouraged “to intensify mediation efforts between government in Khartoum and Sudanese armed groups”.
“So far, the Sudanese opposition appears comfortable with President Kiir facilitating negotiations with Khartoum,” Onanga-Anyanga said adding other countries had expressed interest in hosting coming phases of negotiations.
He said substantive talks between the new government and armed opposition movements in Sudan are expected to continue until mid-December.