posted on Sun 22 Apr 2018 9:29 PM
UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Council to Renew Mission’s Support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism

On Monday (23 April), the Security Council is expected to renew the support of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) for an additional six months. The draft passed silence and is now in blue.

The JBVMM was established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border, but to date remains at initial operating capability. On 15 November 2017, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2386, extending UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May, and decided to maintain the authorised troop ceiling of 4,791 until 15 April, after which the ceiling would decrease to 4,235 unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM. The resolution said that this would be the final extension of support to the JBVMM unless both parties adhere to specific measures set out in the resolution, by no later than 15 March.

Some recent steps have been taken by the parties in line with these specific measures, as set out in the Secretary-General’s recent report on Abyei (S/2018/293), which concludes that both governments have made notable progress towards operationalisation of the JBVMM. It states “more progress has been made during the previous five months…than in the previous five years” and recommends extending UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM for a further six months, “with any future support being contingent upon the two countries’ ability and willingness to implement the outcomes of their border management discussions”.

Ahead of the 15 April expiration of the mission’s support to the JBVMM, Council members held a discussion under “any other business” on 11 April, where the US apparently voiced its opposition to extending such support, arguing that not all of the specific measures set out in resolution 2386 have been achieved. Ethiopia (the primary troop contributing country to UNISFA), supported by most other Council members, were of the view that sufficient steps had been taken to merit further consideration of the issue. Ethiopia then proposed a technical rollover of support to the JBVMM until 15 May, when UNISFA’s mandate is set to expire. However, this proposal was unacceptable to the US, which put a draft resolution in blue on 12 April, allowing for a technical rollover of UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM until 23 April. The following day, resolution 2411 was unanimously adopted.

On 13 April, the US circulated a draft resolution noting the progress made towards the implementation of the JBVMM but expressing disappointment that all measures set out in resolution 2386 have not been achieved. The initial draft extended support to the JBVMM until 15 October, but reduced UNISFA’s authorised troop ceiling to 4,500. During negotiations on the draft, Ethiopia opposed this reduction arguing that the JBVMM, at initial operating capability requires 557 troops, all of whom are already deployed and on the ground. The draft in blue reflects this position and maintains the authorised troop ceiling of 4,791 until 15 October, after which the troop ceiling will decrease to 4,250, unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support to the JBVMM.

The draft in blue also determines that both parties should demonstrate measurable progress on border demarcation and imposes six specific measures in this regard, which maintain, update or in some instances exceed those set out in resolution 2386. These are as follows:

(1) Maintaining standing clearance for all UNISFA air and ground patrols, including landing within the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ), and maintain approval for 100 percent of requested sorties no later than 72 hours after the requests are delivered, in order to facilitate full freedom of movement for UNISFA and the JBVMM;

(2) Finalising agreement on the four JBVMM team sites, and holding a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on the 14 mile area (a disputed border territory), to agree to the location of the team site near Safaha/Kiir Adem;

(3) Convening at least two meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) and for both parties to withdraw from the SDBZ;

(4) Making further progress to establish Phase I border crossing corridors between Sudan and South Sudan, including finalising the opening of the Kosti – El Renk corridor;

(5) Opening two additional corridors from among the ten identified crossings in the SDBZ in line with the directives of AU High-Level Implementation Panel and the JPSM, and finalise a plan for the opening of the remaining border crossings; and

(6) Holding at least two meetings of the Joint Border Commission and Joint Demarcation Committee, finalise the Joint Demarcation Committee’s report to the Joint Border Commission, discuss border demarcation of the agreed sections of the boundary per the 5 March JPSM decision, and resume border demarcation discussions including negotiations on the disputed areas within the framework of the signed agreements.

Negotiations on the draft followed similar dynamics between the US and Ethiopia as during negotiations in May and November of last year on the renewal of the mission’s mandate and its troop ceiling. The US has long been concerned that UNISFA is persisting longer than intended for an interim force, and that Sudan and South Sudan are taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the status of Abyei and related border security issues. However, Ethiopia, supported by a number of other Council members, are of the view that suspending the mission’s support of the JBVMM and reducing the troop ceiling would undermine the effectiveness of the mission, and that the parties had taken sufficient steps towards establishing the JBVMM to merit retaining support.

In this regard, compromises were reached by softening several of the requirements that the parties need to meet, while not doing away with them completely. Regarding benchmark four, language requiring “finalizing the opening of the Phase 1 border crossing corridors”, was changed to “make further progress to establish”. In relation to benchmark five, the number of additional corridors required to be opened were reduced from three to two with the argument made that the approach of the rainy season would hamper such efforts. In relation to benchmark six, the number of meetings required to be held were reduced from three to two, as it was argued that it would be unrealistic to require the parties to deliver more meetings.

The draft resolution also requests the Secretary-General to continue to inform the Council of progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, including reporting on any steps taken in accordance with the present resolution and resolution 2386, no later than 15 September 2018.

Looking ahead, Council members will be briefed in consultations on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan issues on 24 April, by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom.