Sudan and South Sudan must reach an agreement on the disputed, oil-rich border region of Abyei in order for the UN mission there to conclude, according to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Abyei has been contested since South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) was deployed after deadly clashes that year displaced some 100,000 people.
Charged with coming up with options for ending the peacekeepers’ presence, Guterres said in a recent report to the Security Council it is up to the two countries to decide on the status of the region.
“A longer-term and more sustainable solution in Abyei, resulting in a safe and complete drawdown of UNISFA, would need... good neighborly relations between the Sudan and South Sudan and the parties reaching an agreement on the final status of the Abyei area with the support of the region, the African Union and the United Nations,” the report states.
“I call on all partners to assist both the Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their outstanding issues, particularly to reach a settlement on the final status of Abyei,” Guterres said without suggesting how they might do this.
UNISFA is made up mainly of Ethiopian troops, with some 4,500 soldiers on the ground.
Guterres briefed the council on his talks with the two countries.
South Sudan feels a drawdown of UNISFA could be considered “immediately” but should proceed gradually over a year, Guterres said.
Sudan believes this would allow time for the two countries to establish the mechanisms provided for in a 2011 agreement on temporary administrative and security arrangements in Abyei, he said.
But South Sudan says the departure of the UN mission can be considered only after the final status of the region is decided.
South Sudan insists that security concerns remain in Abyei and in neighboring western Kordofan state that warrant UNISFA’s continued presence, Guterres said.