UN envoy calls for more troops in northern Mali
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The top U.N. envoy in Mali called Wednesday for beefed up national and international forces in the country’s volatile north to confront stepped up shelling, terrorist activity and clashes between rival communities.
Albert Koenders told the U.N. Security Council that the violent incidents reflect the very fragile security situation in the north and the need to fast-track the reconciliation process, strengthen military forces, and start a program to disarm and demobilize armed groups.
Despite the violence, he struck an optimistic note saying: “The peace train has definitely left the station and it will not be able to go back.”
A 2012 coup plunged Mali into chaos that allowed secular Tuareg rebels to take over half of the country’s north as a new homeland. Months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists, many linked to al-Qaida jihadists. When the Islamists started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive that routed the rebels though remnants remain.
French and U.N. peacekeeping forces remain in the north and late last year elections were held for a president and national assembly.
The Security Council authorized a U.N. force of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 police for Mali last year, but the latest U.N. figures put its strength at less than 6,150 military personnel and 960 police.
Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop expressed regret at the low level of U.N. peacekeepers and lack of attack helicopters and military transport vehicles at a time of increasing terrorist activity.
He urged troop contributors and donors to provide additional personnel and equipment.
The Security Council expressed concern at “the lack of progress on peace talks.”
The council reiterated its call on the government and armed groups in the north that have cut ties with terrorist organizations and are committed to a cease-fire to urgently agree on a road map for negotiations involving all communities in the north, “with the goal of securing a durable political resolution to the crisis and long-term peace and stability throughout the country.”
Mali’s Diop said “considerable progress has been achieved in negotiations between the government and armed groups.”
But he said the government shares the U.N.’s concerns about security and the resumption of activities by terrorist groups, primarily al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, a radical al-Qaida-linked jihadist group.
Diop said both groups are using rockets against the Malian army and the U.N. and French forces in the north.
The government is also concerned about the worsening situation in the northern town of Kidal, which has seen an upsurge in violence, and in other locations in the north as a result of inter-community violence, he said.