UN peacekeeping mission extended six months in Abyei, oil-rich border town disputed by South Sudan and Sudan

The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday extended the mandate of the UN interim security force for Abyei (UNIFSA) for six months to maintain peace and security while working towards an eventual withdrawal of UN peacekeepers. 

Abyei is an oil-rich border town in the Abyei area that is disputed by South Sudan and Sudan.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the United States called on Sudan and South Sudan to manage bilateral disputes and honor commitments made under the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement that ended conflict between the government and some rebel groups in Sudan. 

“We also call on them [Sudan and South Sudan] to prioritize safety and security of civilians living in Abyei, find ways to improve governance and reduce the likelihood of violence and to determine the final status of Abyei,” the United States Mission to the UN said in a statement. 

The U.S. urged “the African Union and other key stakeholders to intensify their mediation roles,” and for the AU to develop long-term solutions to maintain peace and security in the region. 

The U.S. added it was committed to supporting peace and security in Abyei, Sudan, and South Sudan and “establishing a viable exit strategy for UNISFA.” 

Aside from extending the UNIFSA’s mandate, the Security Council resolution expressed a number of concerns: the “withholding visas for UN police forces, blocking the deployment of a civilian deputy head of mission, and denying access to Anthony airstrip could create a security vacuum,” that inhibit the peacekeeping mission’s ability to operate effectively. 

In the meantime, the UN Secretary-General is conducting a strategic review of the UNIFSA’s operations. “With shifting dynamics in the region, it is essential that we continue to assess how UNIFSA contributes to the regional political and security architecture,” the U.S. said. 

A referendum held in January 2011 had established the nation of South Sudan – the initial peace agreement of 2005 ending two decades of civil war in Sudan had included a provision to hold a referendum for southern Sudan’s independence. 

Months later, the UNIFSA was established to support the Abyei Police Service (APS) and the delivery of humanitarian aid, among other security assistance roles. 

In 2013, the UNIFSA’s mandate was expanded to monitor the entire Sudan-South Sudan border. 

The 2011 UN Security Council resolution also allowed Ethiopian forces to provide security assistance to the disputed border region, and the UNSC on Tuesday commended Ethiopia’s continued support. 

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