The disposition of the Abyei region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan has been a bone of contention between the two countries, even before South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Both countries claim this oil-rich region.
After the second Sudanese Civil War ended in 2005 with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a special status administrative region was created for the Abyei Area. The exact borders of the region were to be determined by the Abyei Borders Commission. But the fighting over ownership of the territory continued. When hostilities ceased with a demilitarization agreement in 2011, the United Nations sent in a peace-keeping mission, UNISFA, with a mandate to keep Abyei demilitarized and weapons-free.
In April, dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan finally looked promising, but it was interrupted by the armed conflict in Sudan. The belligerence put a stop to negotiations regarding the final status of Abyei and its borders. Today Abyei is host to hundreds of South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and South Sudan National Police Service personnel, as well as about 60 Sudanese oil police.
The United States is concerned about “the continued presence of South Sudanese and Sudanese armed groups in Abyei,” said Robert Wood, United States’ Alternative Representative to the UN. “These forces present a destabilizing factor for civilians in Abyei and threaten Abyei’s demilitarized status. UNISFA peacekeepers are the only force that should operate in Abyei. We call on all armed groups to depart the region and call on the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to instruct their forces to evacuate Abyei.”
In two separate incidents, UNISFA personnel came under attack, first by suspected Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and again by members of the Twic Dinka ethnic group. “We condemn these attacks and call for the appropriate authorities to investigate them and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Ambassador Wood. “We strongly urge the Government of South Sudan, with support from UNISFA, to … foster a cohesive environment where the people of Abyei can live in peace and security.”
“We reiterate our commitment to work with the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan and the people in the region, our fellow Council members, the African Union, and other international and regional partners to work towards peace, security, and prosperity in the region.