The prolonged and "unprecedented" conflict between Sudan's military and a rival paramilitary force, now in its seventh month, is sounding alarm bells as it edges perilously closer to South Sudan and the disputed Abyei region, according to a stern warning from Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, the U.N. special envoy for the Horn of Africa. Speaking before the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Tetteh highlighted the recent aggressive moves by the paramilitary Rapid Support Force, which seized control of the airport and oil field in Belila, situated just 55 kilometers southwest of the capital of Sudan's West Kordofan State.
Expressing deep concern, Tetteh emphasized the profound impact of the conflict on the bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan. She underscored the significant humanitarian, security, economic, and political consequences that are now unfolding, causing distress among South Sudanese political leaders. The conflict erupted in mid-April, plunging Sudan into chaos as long-standing tensions between the military and the RSF erupted into open warfare in Khartoum and other regions across the East African nation.
The toll of this conflict is staggering, with more than 9,000 lives lost, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project, and over 4.5 million people forced to flee their homes within Sudan, while more than 1.2 million sought refuge in neighboring countries, according to the U.N.
The roots of Sudan's turmoil trace back to October 2021 when Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan led a coup, disrupting a brief democratic transition following three decades of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir. Since mid-April, Burhan's forces have been in fierce combat with the RSF, commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Despite ongoing talks in Jeddah brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States, the conflict persists.
The U.N. Security Council meeting focused on the peacekeeping force in the oil-rich Abyei region, whose status remains unresolved since South Sudan gained independence in 2011. With the RSF's recent actions in Belila, Tetteh warned that the military confrontation is now dangerously approaching the borders of Abyei and South Sudan. These developments, she cautioned, are likely to have severe consequences on Abyei's social fabric and the already fragile coexistence between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka communities.
In a sobering address to the council, U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix lamented that the eruption of the Sudan conflict had effectively derailed the positive momentum observed in the dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan earlier in 2023. He emphasized that this upheaval had forcefully halted the political process concerning the conclusive status of Abyei and border-related issues. Lacroix's assessment of the situation painted a bleak picture of diplomatic setbacks amid the ongoing strife.
Echoing Lacroix's sentiments, Hanna Serwaa Tetteh concurred that there exists a palpable reluctance among key Sudanese and South Sudanese leaders to engage in discussions pertaining to the status of Abyei. She underscored the unfortunate reality that the conflict has cast a shadow over any inclination to resume the political process. According to Tetteh, representatives from the Abyei communities are acutely aware of the detrimental effects of the conflict on the prospects of renewed talks in the region. Urging continued international attention, she emphasized the crucial necessity to maintain the Abyei dispute on the agendas of both the U.N. and the African Union, recognizing its significance in the broader regional context.
In conclusion, the dire and prolonged conflict between Sudan's military and the rival paramilitary force, now reaching its seventh month, has not only claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions but has also cast a dark cloud over diplomatic endeavors in the region. U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix highlighted the unsettling interruption of promising dialogues between Sudan and South Sudan earlier in 2023, underscoring the consequential suspension of political processes regarding the final status of Abyei and border-related matters.
Hanna Serwaa Tetteh echoed these sentiments, shedding light on the evident reluctance among key Sudanese and South Sudanese leaders to address the status of Abyei amid the ongoing conflict. The awareness among Abyei communities regarding the conflict's adverse impact on the resumption of talks emphasizes the critical need to keep the Abyei dispute on the international agenda.
As the international community grapples with the complex challenges posed by the escalating conflict, there remains a pressing call for sustained diplomatic efforts, humanitarian intervention, and a commitment to resolving the Abyei dispute. The region's stability hinges on the ability of global leaders to address the multifaceted consequences of this conflict and to rekindle diplomatic initiatives that can pave the way for a more peaceful and secure future.