May 16, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – The United Nations Security (UNSC) held a closed meeting on Wednesday to listen to a briefing by the UN Secretary General Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios via videoconference.
- United States ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice (UN Photo)
This comes more than two weeks after the UNSC adopted a resolution that endorsed an African Union roadmap instructing Khartoum and Juba to return to the negotiating table and end all hostilities as well as pull troops back inside their borders.
The decision gave a three month timeframe to reach agreements on key issues including Abyei, oil, citizenship and border demarcation. It threatened either side with non-military sanctions in the event of non-compliance.
The two sides were ordered to resume talks by today but the delay did not seem to concern UNSC members.
"The return to the table is obviously a very important part of this, and Mbeki and Menkerios and others are in the region talking to both parties, trying to facilitate a return to the table. It is frankly not a surprise that it will not happen necessarily on the day we decree, but the aim is that it happen as soon as possible without any further delay and do so consistent with the work that Mbeki and Menkerios as trying to do," US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters today.
Thabo Mbeki, the AU mediator in charge of negotiations, is set to visit Khartoum this week for the first time since the UNSC resolution in order to discuss the return to talks with Sudanese officials.
The US envoy said that lack of council response to bypassing the deadline should not be construed as an extension.
"It’s not a matter of giving them time. It’s a matter of accomplishing the tasks in the resolution, putting maximum pressure on the parties to do that. They know what their obligations are, and we’re supporting all the efforts of Menkerios and Mbeki to accomplish that," Rice said.
She also said that there were some encouraging signs from Menkerios’s briefing today.
"On the positive side, the level of violence seems to have dropped significantly, particularly over the last week to ten days, including no more aerial bombardments since the 5th or the 6th of May. Although they remained poised—locked and loaded, one might say—on the various parts of the border. The decision of South Sudan to withdraw its police forces from Abyei, which has been verified and completed, is a very positive step. It’s very important—and all Council members were united in insisting—that Sudan withdraw its forces immediately and unconditionally" the US diplomat said.
The two countries fought fierce battles last month after Juba managed to briefly occupy the Heglig region, which is Khartoum claims is in South Kordofan state, before Sudan army recaptured it.
The incident dampened hopes that post-independence talks can be rebooted with the hope of breaking the long-standing deadlock.
Sudan is now insisting that it will only head for negotiations on security issues and only after that is settled will it agree to discuss other items.
South Sudan’s lead negotiator Pagan Amum, told Agence France Presse (AFP) his country was ready to resume the talks.
He revealed that Juba has sent a letter to Mbeki, saying: "We have been ready to resume talks and we are waiting".
Sudan has not reciprocated, Amum said.
"I believe it is because the government of Sudan hasn’t been keen to return to talks, which is in violation of the UNSC resolution and the AU roadmap" underlying the UN resolution, he said.
An African diplomat told AFP that Khartoum does seem ready to negotiate, although "they have their own approach" by placing security first.
"They need to obviously agree on the specifics of the agenda for their discussion," he said, declining to be named.
The UNSC resolution also directed Khartoum to cooperate with the mediation team in resolving the conflict with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which Khartoum accuses Juba of backing.
SPLM-N has been fighting Sudanese government forces in the border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile since last year.
Mbeki’s team made one failed attempt to broker an agreement which Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir scrapped after his aide signed it last year.
The US ambassador stressed that the issue of SPLM-N rebels is integral part of this month’s UNSC resolution.
"[T]he resolution makes clear that this is part of the African Union Roadmap, and it is a requirement. The reality is that, as we all agree in there, it is impossible to separate what is happening from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile from the larger conflict between North and South. And the North would be wise to return to the table with the SPLM-North, to allow humanitarian access, which was discussed in there as a matter of enormous urgency given the onslaught of the rainy season. And the North needs to know—and the SPLM-North needs to know—that they have obligations in this regard under the resolution," Rice said.