Northern Sudan tells UN peacekeepers their time is up

Khartoum says that the mission of the UN peacekeepers in Sudan will be finished when South Sudan becomes independent on July 9.

Stuart Price/Reuters
Soldiers from Zambia serving with the international peacekeeping operation patrol on the ground in the region of Abyei, central Sudan, in this handout picture released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on May 30.

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was formed in 2005 to assist in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). You can read about UNMIS’s mandate here.

The CPA was the agreement that included plans for the referendum on South Sudanese independence that occurred in January of this year. With the South’s vote for secession, Sudan will become two countries on July 9. Given that, the government of North Sudan now wants UNMIS peacekeepers to leave the country by that day – the date when UNMIS’s mandate formally expires.

The UN and the government in Khartoum disagree about who has the power to decide when UNMIS must leave. The UN says it is a decision for the UN Security Council, while the Northern Sudanese government says final consent rests with them.

The future of UNMIS is also a point of contention between the governments of North and South Sudan. The issue arose – but was not settled – at a vice presidents’ meeting yesterday:

the two sides also appear to have irreconcilable positions.

The official SUNA news agency said on Saturday that Khartoum had “officially notified the United Nations of the end of the term of the United Nations Mission in Sudan on July 9.”

[Southern Sudanese Vice President Riek] Machar argued, however, that the UN force was needed even more post-July in Abyei as well as in the northern border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both of which have strong links to the south.

The border zones that Machar mentions are definitely still hot spots for conflict. The departure of UN troops could have a negative effect on those areas. Still, the legal questions remain – who has the final say over whether UNMIS stays or goes? We will see what the Security Council says.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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