“The outbreak of violence in the Sudan may deeply impact the chance for political progress on Abyei and border issues,” Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, told the Council.
Security in Abyei, a disputed oil-rich border region straddling both African nations, had been a point of contention, but agreements had been reached before the outbreak of violence in Sudan on 15 April, she said, providing updates to the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on the unfolding situation.
Among several pressing concerns were ongoing conflict-triggered disruptions to deployment routes of the Council-mandated UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), established in 2011 to implement bilateral border agreements, which Ms. Pobee also heads.
“With fighting ongoing and mediation efforts underway, the United Nations will continue to support Sudan and South Sudan when dialogue on Abyei resumes,” she said.
“The arrival of additional personnel and equipment will need to be postponed, affecting force capacity,” she said, adding that planning is currently underway to make alternative arrangements that minimize the delay while safeguarding the security of personnel and equipment.
Prior to the crisis, she said UN country teams in Sudan and South Sudan, with UNISFA, had finalized administrative arrangements for the Abyei Joint Programme, and had begun implementing projects to create an environment conducive to peaceful co-existence, including a nutrition centre for women and children and vocational training for youth.
“UNISFA is monitoring the potential impact of the fighting in the Sudan, such as an influx of displaced persons, the entry of armed groups into the area or the emboldening of spoilers in local inter-communal relations,” she said, noting that evacuations have been conducted.
“While none of these risks have materialized in a major way so far, the Mission remains alert to their possibility,” she said. “With fighting ongoing and mediation efforts underway, the United Nations will continue to support the Sudan and South Sudan when dialogue on Abyei resumes.”
Juba raises concerns
Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, told the Council said the conflict is jeopardizing pre-conflict stable relations between Juba, South Sudan’s capital, and Khartoum.
“The humanitarian, security, economic and political consequences of developments in Sudan have raised concerns among the South Sudanese political leadership,” she said.
Thousands of South Sudanese hosted in Sudan are returning, with a potential of another 200,000 returnees fleeing the violence “if we do not see stability returning soon”, she said. This would pose a challenge to South Sudan, where two thirds of the population need humanitarian assistance.
Border safety risks
As Sudan is not currently in a position to effectively protect its borders, she raised additional concerns about a possible spike in cross-border movements of armed and criminal groups.
Meanwhile, the fighting in Sudan has already choked off deliveries of essential goods and food, and could threaten South Sudan’s oil exports, she warned.
“The priority now is to stop the fighting and to start constructive negotiations that hopefully would lead to a permanent ceasefire,” she said, emphasizing that her Office will continue to engage with Sudan and South Sudan towards resolving outstanding issues.
Learn more about the “One UN” effort to build sustainable peace in Abyei here.