UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The new UN special envoy for crisis-ravaged Mali on Monday warned that increased insecurity, especially in the center and north of the country, would have “dramatic consequences” for the immediate region and beyond, and urged the military-led transition. government to prepare for the elections next February.
El-Ghassim Wane told the UN Security Council that the West African nation “finds itself at a critical juncture”, calling the situation “difficult, desperate and frustrating”. He said “there are now more displaced Malians than at the height of the crisis in June 2013”, many of whom live in very difficult conditions amid worrying reports of human rights violations.
“The encroachment of violent extremism on many Malian communities presents a serious setback,” he said, including that “many extremist groups violate women’s rights and seek to completely remove women from the public sphere “.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to topple the president for a decade. The power vacuum that was created ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013. A peace accord was signed in 2015 by three parties – the government, a coalition of groups seeking autonomy in the north of the country. Mali, and a pro-government militia.
However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began to launch frequent attacks against the Malian army and its allies fighting the insurgency. Extremists, affiliated with al-Qaida and the militant Islamic State group, have moved from the arid north to the more populous center of Mali since 2015 where their presence has fueled animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
During the latest turmoil, Colonel Assimi Goita took power in August 2020 by overthrowing the democratically elected president of Mali. He eventually agreed to a transitional government headed by a civilian president and prime minister, but on May 24 he ousted those civilian leaders after announcing a cabinet reshuffle that ousted two junta supporters without consulting him. Last Friday, Goita was sworn in as president.
The African Union and the West African regional group of ECOWAS have both suspended Mali’s membership and reaffirmed that the initial transition timetable for the elections – February 27, 2022 – must be respected. ECOWAS reiterated that the President, Vice President and Prime Minister of the transition should not be candidates in the next presidential election.
Wane, UN envoy and head of the over 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, said President Goita and Prime Minister Choguel Maiga reassured international partners that they would respect the election transition timetable and that neither would stand for election. .
He said they also reiterated their commitment to work with the armed movements that signed the 2015 peace agreement and are represented in the new government, “with a view to accelerating the implementation of the agreement” .
“These commitments must now translate into urgent and concrete actions,” which requires the support of all Malian parties, Wane said. “The time has come for Malian leaders to rise above partisan politics and personal interests and work together to address the crisis for the benefit of their country and its future.
He said this was particularly needed now “as the security situation in northern and central Mali remains extremely worrying.” He also called for “immediate action (…) to initiate critical reforms and lay the foundations for a credible electoral process”.
The French Ambassador Nicolas De Rivière, former colonial power of Mali, stressed that “the absolute priority” must be the organization of presidential elections on February 27, 2022, to which the leaders of the transition do not have the right to participate.
On June 3, France announced that it was suspending joint military operations with Malian forces until the junta complied with international demands to restore civilian rule. Last Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France’s military presence in the fight against Islamic extremism in the wider Sahel region of Africa, including Mali and neighboring countries, would be reduced but did not give no delay.
The French operation Barkhane now has more than 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel. Macron said Barkhane will officially end and be replaced by another mission focused on countering Islamic extremists that relies more on regional partners. He said details would be released at the end of June, including the number of troops France maintains in the region.
De Rivière said that in central Mali, the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA has only 2,000 peacekeepers and three helicopters available every two weeks.
“We would therefore like to give serious thought to the issue of increasing resources and the staffing ceiling,” he said.
But no other member of the 15-country Security Council has expressed support for increasing the troop cap, and China and Vietnam have said they want to maintain the current cap.