NEW YORK , MAY 16 – Thanks to the mediation of Italy and Sweden, its two European non-permanent members, the UN Security Council found unity and unanimously approved the renewal of a small UN peace mission, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, a contested region in Sudan.
The green light on a compromise language allowed to renew the mission a few hours ahead of the expiration of its mandate avoiding a divided outcome and a potential veto from Russia. Without the Council vote, UNISFA world have expired at midnight, May 15.
The diplomatic marathon started when the United States delegation, which was the penholder of the resolution, proposed to suspend the mission’s role in supporting the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) and a reduction in the UNISFA troop ceiling from 5,329 to 4,170 (the current deployed numbers are 4,499, mostly from Ethiopia), in line with the position of the Trump administration on a more streamlined peacekeeping system. Other delegations opposed, including Russia and Ethiopia, which provides the Force commander.
Sudan and South Sudan are disputing the oil-rich Abyei, an area inhabited mainly by Sudan’s Arab Mesiria tribe and South Sudan’s Dinka Ngok tribe. The area, which has two thirds of Sudan’s oil wells, has witnessed many tensions between the two tribes and the armies of the two countries, where dozens have been killed.
In January, UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom reiterated the importance of achieving full peace between the two neighboring countries. A referendum was scheduled to be held in Abyei to decide the fate of the area, but the voting did not take place due to differences over who has the right to vote.
Against this background, UNISFA troops were able to maintain a degree of stability. The resolution, which gives the Border Verification Mechanism a last opportunity to do its job until November 15, underscores that “continued cooperation between the government of Sudan and the government of South Sudan is critical for peace, security and stability and the future relations between them.”
The council further reiterated “its demand that Sudan and South Sudan urgently commence the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration and Council, including by resolving the deadlock over the composition of the Council.”
The unanimous vote “is a strong sign of Council’s unity”, the Italian permanent representative Sebastiano Cardi said, praising the United States for “their constructive position that allowed us to reach such an important result” and Ethiopia for “its flexibility and of course for its role in the mission in Abyei”.
Speaking also on behalf of Sweden, Cardi said that Italy shares the points raised by the United States on the need for greater effectiveness in UN peace missions. “Renewing the mandate of a peacekeeping mission should never be considered a routine activity, or “business as usual”. Instead, it always requires an in-depth analysis by this Council. This is why, together with Sweden, that I commend for the cooperation, and in close consultations with the E10, we asked on Friday to continue our discussions. We thank you, Mr. President, for having accepted that request, which led to a fruitful discussion that permitted to bridge positions and pave the way for consensus, in the interest of the Council’s unity, which we consider to be of paramount importance”, the Ambassador added, stressing that the outcome of the vote “can provide a successful model for discussions in the coming months on other peacekeeping operations”. (@alebal)