May 2, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – The Sudanese government reacted with caution to the resolution adopted unanimously today by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) saying it contains positive elements but vowed to review it carefully in order to determine its negotiating strategy with South Sudan.
- Deng Alor Kuol, the South Sudanese Minister of Cabinet Affairs (Reuters)
Today’s decision directs Khartoum and Juba to inform the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and UNSC president in writing of their intention to commit to a cessation of hostilities including aerial bombardments within 48 hours.
The two sides must immediately withdraw their forces inside their respective borders without conditions and within a week activate the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) and the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ).
Also, withdrawal from the disputed border region of Abyei must be completed in two weeks in accordance with the June 2011 Agreement on Temporary Security and Administrative Arrangements for Abyei.
Furthermore, the two countries will return to the negotiating table in two weeks time to settle issues including oil, citizenship, border demarcation and Abyei. A four-month window was given to conclude the talks.
Talks on these contentious items is mediated by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by Thabo Mbeki but there was little success in achieving any breakthrough.
The panel managed to schedule a meeting between Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir for April 3rd to seal framework agreements on borders and citizenship. However, clashes that erupted between the two countries in late March over the oil-rich region of Heglig inside South Kordofan led to the suspension of the summit.
Relations deeply deteriorated in early April after South Sudan army (SPLA) managed to occupy Heglig for 10 days before Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) reclaimed the area. Juba insists that it withdrew voluntarily and dismissed Khartoum assertions that they were expelled by force.
South Sudan claimed that Heglig is part of Unity state that was annexed to north Sudan several decades ago through an administrative decision. Heglig, which produces half of Sudan’s oil, saw its facilities severely damaged which Khartoum blamed on SPLA and vowed to sue it internationally.
The UNSC resolution passed today called for a fact finding effort to assess the losses including economic and humanitarian damage to oil facilities and other key infrastructure in and around Heglig.
Despite reservations expressed by China and Russia, the resolution maintained the threat of non-military measures against any side that fails to comply with council’s demands that were in essence part of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) roadmap endorsed last month.
"We are always very cautious about the use and threat of sanctions," China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told the council.
"China has all along maintained that African issues should be settled by the Africans in African ways" Baodong added.
The Russian envoy expressed same sentiment.
"The arsenal of political and diplomatic instruments for normalizing the situation has nowhere been exhausted," Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council.
"We consider sanctions as an extreme measure" he said
In Beijing, the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised China for backing the resolution.
"I’m pleased that China and the United States joined with a unified international community just hours ago to support a strong UN Security [Council] resolution that provides unambiguous support to the African Union roadmap," Clinton said.
The Sudanese government criticized the AUPSC for requesting the blessings of the UNSC and warned against the attempt to override the African role by involving the UNSC. It said that the intervention by the world body will make political considerations and pre-established positions prevail over the requirements of peaceful settlements.
Last Sunday, the Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti sent a letter to the AU declaring his country’s "preliminary" agreement with the roadmap while expressing several reservations that were not specified.
Karti traveled to Moscow this week to press Russia on Sudan’s point of view regarding the draft resolution. However, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov signaled his backing to the resolution despite expressing discomfort with including Article 41 of the UN charter.
Article 41 states that the UNSC may decide what measures – not involving the use of armed force – are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call on the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures.
These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.
Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Al-Obeid Marwih said that elements of the UNSC resolution related to condemning Heglig occupation and calling for assessing damage to oil facilities are positive.
Marwih noted that Sudan has no "fundamental objection" on the resolution as long as it is made on the basis of the AUPSC roadmap.
But the head of ruling National Congress Party (NCP) parliamentary bloc Ghazi Salah al-Deen slammed the AUPSC communiqué saying that it equated between the victim and the villain.
"We cannot endorse any international decision denying the right of the Sudanese people," Al-Deen told the legislative assembly.
Al-Deen, who also serves as Bashir’s adviser, said the labeling of Heglig as disputed area is "malicious".
Sudan’s ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Osman expressed disappointment with the resolution.
"It is notable that the resolution has disregarded the continuous aggression by South Sudan against Sudan," Osman told the council.
"Peace ... will only be achieved through halting all forms of support and sheltering of proxy rebel and armed groups espoused by the South Sudan," he added.
But South Sudan’s Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor Kuol who attended the vote told the council that his government would comply with the resolution.
"It is my privilege to reaffirm to you that, in compliance with the decisions of the African Union Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council’s Presidential Statement, and in the spirit of our commitment to peace, my government ordered the withdrawal of our police force from Abyei Area on 28 April 2012. We expect the international community to exert efforts to ensure the immediate and complete withdrawal of Sudan Armed Forces from Abyei Area," Alor told the council.
As acknowledged formally by the African Union, my government is already committed to the cessation of hostilities and the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the African Union High Implementation Panel. We welcome the decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council, and the commitment of the UN Security Council to the enhancement of the AUHIP led negotiations process through the active participation of the UN, the Chairman of IGAD and other international partners,"
"We appeal to the United Nations and its member states to urgently mobilize humanitarian assistance for the population affected by Sudan’s continuous aerial bombardment and ground incursions in northern states of South Sudan," he said.
Alor told reporters that his country did not abandon claims to Heglig and stressed that the move on the region was in response to Khartoum’s aerial bombardments and ground incursions. He said the ownership of Heglig would be on the negotiating table.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice hailed the vote saying that it enforces a timeframe to achieve results after years of talks.
"With this vote, the Council has clearly imposed tight deadlines for concrete action, in line with the African Union decision. This Council, especially those members with particular influence, including my own, must continue to press both parties to implement the African Union Roadmap by ending hostilities, ceasing cross-border attacks and movements, halting aerial bombardments, withdrawing all their forces from the border areas including Abyei, activating the necessary border security mechanisms, and ending support to rebel groups working against the other state," she said.
"It is also essential that both parties return at once to the negotiating table under the auspices of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel to reach agreement on critical outstanding issues. We support the plans of the African Union to travel to Khartoum and Juba in the coming days to begin the process. This is ultimately the only way that further conflict can be avoided" Rice added.
She warned that the UNSC is willing to impose punitive measures if there is lack of progress.
"If the parties fail to take these steps promptly, this Council is united in its determination to hold both sides accountable. We stand ready to impose Chapter VII sanctions on either or both parties, as necessary," the U.S. diplomat said.
But the Russian ambassador said that sanctions should not be used in relation to conflicts in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where fighting has been raging since last year between Sudan’s army and rebels from Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) who want to topple to Khartoum government.
The resolution orders Khartoum and SPLM-N to cooperate with the mediation and use a June 2011 framework agreement as a basis for talks. The deal was signed by presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie only to be scrapped by Bashir himself later.