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UN Interim Security Force for Abyei Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow (15 November), the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 May 2019. An initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, on 7 November, following bilateral negotiations with Ethiopia (the primary troop-contributing country to UNISFA). One round of negotiations among all 15 members was held on 8 November, and a revised draft was circulated the next day. A final draft was put under silence yesterday afternoon. The draft passed silence today and is being put into blue.

The final draft reduces the authorised troop ceiling of the mission from 4,500 to 4,140 and decides to reduce the troop ceiling by a further 295 troops following the start of the deployment of increased police personnel, as set out in the draft. The extent of the troop reduction and the plan to carry it out in a phased manner is in keeping with the position expressed by Ethiopia during negotiations. (Ethiopia has consistently voiced concern about troop reductions of UNISFA during its time on the Council.)

On 11 October, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2438 renewing until 15 April 2019 the support of UNISFA to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. While Ethiopia and several other Council members maintain that it is important for the Council to support the JBVMM to help maintain its effectiveness, the US has questioned the Council’s continued support for this mechanism, arguing that Sudan and South Sudan have not made sufficient progress in addressing the underlying political differences that created tensions along the border and led to the establishment of the JBVMM in the first place.

The draft to be adopted decides that as of 15 April 2019, the authorised troop ceiling will decrease by a further 557 troops, unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support to the JBVMM. This reflects the decision made in resolution 2438, except for changing the number the troop strength may be reduced by from 541 (as stated in resolution 2438) to 557 if support to the JBVMM is not extended; this figure (557) is consistent with the number of UNISFA troops currently deployed to the JBVMM. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 11 October.)

Regarding the mission’s police personnel, the draft resolution decides to increase the authorised police ceiling from 50 to 345 police personnel, including 185 individual police officers and one formed police unit. During negotiations, Council members including France, the Netherlands and the UK proposed to raise the police ceiling even further; however, it appears the US and others did not support authorising more than 345 personnel at this time. The Secretary-General’s 20 August letter on UNISFA’s reconfiguration recommended a larger police component of 640 personnel, given the reports of increased criminality in the Abyei Area and the fact that the Abyei Police Service has yet to be established. However, this recommendation was based on extending UNISFA’s mandate for one year and not six months as in the present draft. The draft also urges both parties to establish the Abyei Police Service and expresses the Council’s intention to reduce UNISFA’s authorised police ceiling accordingly, as this occurs.

The draft to be adopted also expresses the Council’s “intention to request the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission for UNISFA to support steps to implement the Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area and to achieve a political resolution to the status of Abyei”. This is consistent with the views of the Secretary-General, who stated in his 20 August letter that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged in the advancement of their dialogue politically” to resolve the final status of Abyei, and recommended the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission to function as the main focal point on political matters and expanding UNISFA’s civilian component.

During negotiations on the draft, Council members, including Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kuwait and Russia, opposed requesting the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission, apparently based on Sudan not being supportive of such an appointment. Council members, including France, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the UK and the US, were in favour of requesting that such an appointment be made at this time, however. As a result, the language represents a compromise as it does not go so far as to request that the appointment be made but expresses the Council’s intention to make such a request possibly at a later date. (Major General Gebre Adhana Woldezgu of Ethiopia is currently UNISFA’s Acting Head of Mission and Force Commander.)

In relation to the political situation, the draft takes note “that over the course of seven years the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan have not made meaningful progress on the political process…including the failure to hold regular meetings of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee and to establish the Abyei Area Administration, and the Abyei Police Service”. It also refers to the fact that the responsibilities of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sudan and South Sudan will be taken over by the newly-created Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, as set out in a 24 October letter from the Secretary-General (S/2018/955). The former Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, was appointed Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, effective 1 October. The Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa has yet to be appointed by the Secretary-General.

The final draft further requests the parties to update the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) and the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, and for the Panel and the Special Envoy to update the Council, by 15 April 2019 on specific steps, including those taken towards resolving the final status of Abyei; implementing all Abyei Joint Oversight Committee decisions; and promoting reconciliation and engagement of the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities. It also encourages the AUHIP and the Special Envoy to coordinate with UNISFA on reconciliation and political peace processes.

In relation to additional reporting requirements, the draft to be adopted requests the Secretary-General to inform the Council of progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, in a note, by 31 January 2019, including on progress in the reduction of troops and increase in police personnel. It further requests the Secretary-General to submit a written report by 15 April 2019 on progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, including on the potential for an augmented civilian component in UNISFA to support the political process, which seems to have been proposed by the US following compromises made on the issue of requesting the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission during negotiations.

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