The ongoing and “unprecedented” conflict between Sudan’s army and a rival paramilitary force, now in its seventh month, is approaching closer to South Sudan and the disputed Abyei region, as cautioned by the UN special envoy for the Horn of Africa on Monday.
Hanna Serwaa Tetteh pointed to the paramilitary Rapid Support Force’s recent seizures of the airport and oil field in Belila, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of the capital of Sudan’s West Kordofan State.
She told the UN Security Council that the conflict “is profoundly affecting bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan, with significant humanitarian, security, economic and political consequences that are a matter of deep concern among the South Sudanese political leadership.”
Sudan was plunged into chaos in mid-April when simmering tensions between the military and the RSF exploded into open warfare in the capital, Khartoum, and other areas across the East African nation.
More than 9,000 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project, which tracks Sudan’s war. And the fighting has driven over 4.5 million people to flee their homes to other places inside Sudan and more than 1.2 million to seek refuge in neighboring countries, the UN says.
Sudan plunged into turmoil after its leading military figure, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, led a coup in October 2021 that upended a short-run democratic transition following three decades of autocratic rule by Omar Al-Bashir. Since mid-April, his troops have been fighting the RSF, commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
Both sides have been taking part in talks aimed at ending the conflict in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States, since late October. But fighting has continued.
The Security Council meeting focused on the UN peacekeeping force in the oil-rich Abyei region, whose status was unresolved after South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011. The region’s majority Ngok Dinka people favor South Sudan, while the Misseriya nomads who come to Abyei to find pasture for their cattle favor Sudan.
With the RSF’s seizures in Belila, Tetteh said, the military confrontation between Sudan’s two sides “is getting closer to the border with Abyei and South Sudan.”
“These military developments are likely to have adverse consequences on Abyei’s social fabric and the already fragile coexistence between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka,” she said.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the council that the outbreak of the Sudan conflict “interrupted the encouraging signs of dialogue between the Sudan and South Sudan witnessed earlier in 2023.” He said it had put on hold “the political process with regard to the final status of Abyei and border issues.”
Tetteh echoed Lacroix, saying that “there is no appetite from key Sudanese and South Sudanese leaders to raise the status of Abyei.”
She said representatives of the communities in Abyei are very aware of the conflict’s “adverse consequences” on the resumption of talks on the region and expressed the need to keep the Abyei dispute on the UN and African Union agendas.