|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6985th Meeting (AM)
Special Representative Praises Accord between Mali Transitional Government, Armed
Groups as ‘Important First Step’ towards Restoring Constitutional Order
New Mission to be Fully Operational by 1 July,
Security Council Told, with Permanent Representative Endorsing Deployment
The United Nations top official in Mali commended the 18 June Preliminary Agreement on the Presidential Elections and Inclusive Negotiations between that country’s transitional Government and armed groups in the north as an “important first step” towards full restoration of constitutional order and territorial integrity in the strife-torn country.
Albert Gerard Koenders, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in his briefing to the Security Council this morning, stressed that “the Agreement is critical, not only because of the forthcoming elections, but also because it commits the parties to a post-electoral dialogue”.
The 28 July presidential elections would be held all over the country, including in the tension-fraught northern region of Kidal, he pointed out. However, for any subsequent dialogue on governance, justice, security sector reform and reconciliation to be successful, it would need to be comprehensive and inclusive, while tackling the root causes of Mali’s recurrent crisis, he stressed, citing widespread malnutrition, the highest child mortality rate in the world and scant education and health-care infrastructure. Moreover, despite progress since January by the Mali army and the French military Operation Serval, the country’s overall security situation remained fragile.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) had been set up to help Mali address those challenges and assist the electoral process, he told Council members. Replacing the Organization’s African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), the new Mission would begin operating 1 July.
However, the Mission was unique in several important instances, said Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support. “MINUSMA is rightly considered to be one of the most logistically challenging missions the United Nations has ever launched,” she stated. Those daunting challenges were due to Mali’s harsh climate; limited water, energy, transport and information technology infrastructure; and the existence of armed groups vehemently opposed to a United Nations presence.
Nevertheless, she said, arrangements were under way to set up MINUSMA headquarters in Bamako and in the north, starting with Gao and Timbuktu. As well, the United Nations had begun transporting election materials to Gao and Timbuktu, and was set to support and supervise the cantonment of combatants in Kidal.
Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said MINUSMA would play a key role in stabilizing Mali, noting that since its establishment on 25 April, MINUSMA had already begun to implement its mandate in terms of political good offices, electoral support, human rights and support for the restoration of State authority.
He said he aimed for a seamless transition from AFISMA to MINUSMA to preserve security gains thus far and to avoid creating security vacuums. Pledges were still being sought for important outstanding capabilities, including medium utility helicopters, armed helicopters, intelligence, information operations and special forces, he said, calling on long-standing and new troop-contributing countries alike to fill those critical gaps.
Mali’s representative fully endorsed MINUSMA’s deployment, and said there was widespread confidence in the transfer of authority from AFISMA to the new Mission.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:04 a.m.
As the Security Council met this morning it had before it the Report of the Secretary-General in Mali (document S/2013/338). Submitted pursuant to Council resolution 2100 (2013), by which the Council established the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), it outlines political developments in the country since March and MINUSMA’s creation and takeover from the United Nations Office in Mali (UNOM).
ALBERT GERARD KOENDERS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said the security situation in Mali was gradually improving thanks to efforts since January to combat extremist armed groups in the north by the Malian army and Operation Serval — the French military operation in Mali. Timbuktu and Gao were returning to normal, despite isolated acts of vandalism. Still, the overall situation remained fragile. He cited flare-ups between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MLNA) and different armed groups in the north. The MLNA still maintained control in the Kidal region and surrounding areas. However, on 4 June of this year, the Malian army had launched an attack on the MNLA, retaking the town of Anefis, which it still held today.
On 18 June, he said, the Mali’s transitional Government and armed groups in the north, particularly the MNLA and the Haut Conseil pour l'Unité de l'Azawad signed the Preliminary Agreement on the Presidential Elections and Inclusive Negotiations. The Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad and the Popular Front officials adhered to the Agreement on the same day.
“The Preliminary Agreement is an important first step towards full restoration of constitutional order and territorial integrity,” he said. It would pave the way for elections nationwide, including in Kidal, and enable subsequent dialogue with elected officials on governance, justice, security sector reform and reconciliation.
From 1 July, he continued, the MINUSMA Force Commander would chair the Joint Technical Security Commission, charged with overseeing implementation of the ceasefire in Kidal. That process would include cantonment, as a first step in disarmament and demobilization; the return of the Malian armed forces, with the help of Operation Serval and the Organization’s African-led International Support Mission in Mali; and the return to power of the Malian Administration.
In addition, he said that an international commission of inquiry would need to be set up to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, sexual violence, drug trafficking and other serious human rights violations in Mali. “Although a first and preliminary step, the Agreement is critical, not only because of the forthcoming elections, but also because it commits the parties to a post-electoral dialogue,” he said. To be successful, the dialogue must be comprehensive and inclusive, and tackle the root causes of Mali’s recurring crisis.
He noted limited progress on the broader political front. The long-awaited Commission for Dialogue and Reconciliation, with its 33 appointed members, had been established on 25 April. Despite criticism over its perceived lack of transparency, the Commission was generally welcomed by the public as a way to address long-standing issues of truth and impunity. Preparations were under way for the 28 July presidential elections.
At the Government’s request, MINUSMA was supporting the deployment of sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials in the northern regions, including national identification cards for voting, he said. On 14 June, a Government delegation had visited Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger to conduct a census of refugees with view to identifying potential voters and discuss ways to set up polling stations in those nations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) were working closely on that matter.
Expressing concern over Mali’s humanitarian needs, he pointed out that some 3.5 million people were considered food insecure, with 1.4 million of them needing immediate food aid. At least one in five households in the three northern regions faced severe food shortage. Some 600,000 children under the age of five were at risk of acute malnutrition. Mali had the highest child mortality rate in the world. Although most of the administration had returned to Gao and Timbuktu, the delivery of services remained challenging. In Kidal, the administration had yet to be deployed and no schools were functioning. More than 100,000 children were believed to have no access to education in the north. Health care was limited.
As of 18 June, he noted that the consolidated appeal process for Mali for 2013 had been 32 per cent funded, with $133 million raised. More resources were urgently needed to supply basic needs for millions of Malians. In regards to the human rights situation, which remained precarious, he said that human rights teams had been sent to Gao, Gossi, Timbuktu and Kidal, and had registered violations, such as disappearances, extra judicial killings, ill-treatment, looting of private property, illegal arrests and other violations committed by all parties.
In addition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Malian Government had recently jointly assessed the damage of Timbuktu’s cultural heritage, he said. Fourteen of Timbuktu’s mausoleums, including the one that was part of UNESCO World Heritage sites, were totally destroyed.
The situation in Mali had broad regional and global repercussions, he said. As global attention stayed focused on terrorists in Mali, other criminal groups would continue shifting their operations to neighbouring countries. The 1 July meeting of the Support and Follow-up Group on Mali in Bamako and the presentation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy to the Council on 26 June would provide an opportunity to highlight the transnational nature of threats and the need for a coherent approach to tackle them. Broad-based dialogue was needed to address the Malian crisis’ complex causes.
“I urge all Malians to seize this opportunity to steer their country in the right direction,” he said, calling on the parties to implement the Preliminary Agreement in the spirit of national reconciliation and peace, and encouraging them to ensure an inclusive non-violent electoral and post-electoral period.
The United Nations had been called upon to help implement the Agreement and the upcoming elections, he continued. The success of those two activities would depend on key confidence-building and aid to put Mali on a stable path. He urged Member States to fully support the Organization and contribute critical, immediate resources, military and police personnel, and key enablers.
HERVÉ LADSOUS, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, noting that certain deficits remained despite MINUSMA’s continued support from contributors, underscored that the Mission would play a key role in the stabilization of Mali, particularly in the north of the country. Describing planned activities, such as troop patrols, he emphasized the need to minimize the risks for civilians throughout the country.
He went on to say that as Operation Serval began to draw down, AFISMA had continued to gradually assume operational responsibility for several areas in northern Mali. Since its establishment on 25 April of this year, MINUSMA had begun to implement its mandate in terms of political good offices, electoral support, human rights and support for the restoration of State authority. On 1 July, MINUSMA would have initial operational capability, including in the Force headquarters. The two sector headquarters in Gao and Timbuktu would also be operational soon, with staff for all headquarters to be further built up over the next two months.
However, he said, some concerns had been raised about the transition of the AFISMA Chadian troops as blue helmets, given Chad’s listing by the Secretary-General among countries that allow child recruitment in the armed forces. The Government of Chad would have to comply with five short-term measures as part of implementing its action plan to end the recruitment of child soldiers within the four-month grace period.
Describing other aspects of the new Mission, he said that pledges were still being sought for important outstanding capabilities, including medium utility helicopters, armed helicopters, intelligence, information operations and special forces. “We count on the continued support of both our traditional and new troop-contributing countries to help us fill these critical gaps,” he said.
The United Nations’ recent activities in Mali were an excellent example of the uniqueness of its peacekeeping as a political-military endeavour, he stated, recalling that the Mission had played a key role alongside the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union in the political negotiations leading to the agreement on Kidal. MINUSMA would now have critical and immediate responsibilities to support the implementation of the ceasefire provisions of the Preliminary Agreement signed by the transitional Government.
Furthermore, he pointed out, there were just over four weeks remaining until the first round of presidential elections. “A poorly managed electoral process could further aggravate instability,” he said. To avoid such a situation, MINUSMA would continue to support efforts to develop consensus among stakeholders on the “rules of the game” and a shared commitment to accepting the outcome of the elections. The Mission would also provide security, technical and logistical support throughout the process, while seeking ways to strengthen its capabilities in those areas, as well.
Addressing some of the Mission’s main challenges, he said that the United Nations was deploying a peacekeeping operation in a new geopolitical context with asymmetrical threats not previously encountered in a peacekeeping environment. The Organization was finalizing a technical arrangement with France, which would define the modalities to be used by the United Nations and France for the provision of support by the latter to MINUSMA.
In regards to transitioning from AFISMA to MINUSMA, he said that “o ur central priority will be to maintain a seamless continuity between the two operations to preserve the security gains made so far, and avoid creating any security vacuums”, while supporting elections and the ceasefire agreement.
He also observed that the harsh climate, the state of the infrastructure and the vastness of the geographic area of responsibility for the sustainment and support of the Mission all presented formidable challenges, as well. The generation of logistical enablers would be an initial priority towards establishing and sustaining the mission in the north of the country. However, he stressed, “we must be realistic and understand that not all of these capabilities will be immediately available”. Patience, concerted support and significant investment would be required to protect the gains made so far, to strengthen stability in Mali and to guard against the spread of insecurity in the surrounding region.
AMEERAH HAQ, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, said the Department of Field Support’s immediate priority was to set up MINUSMA’s initial operational capacity. Despite formidable constraints, the Department was on track to meet its requirements by 1 July. It was also simultaneously engaged in preparing for Mali’s presidential elections on 28 July, as well as following up on the Agreement signed last week in Ouagadougou. In addition, efforts were focused on providing rations to troops, fuel for vehicles and premises for work and living. She was confident the rations and water distribution would meet MINUSMA troops’ needs, and fuel distribution would be operational by 1 July.
Arrangements were under way to set up headquarters in Bamako and in the north, starting with Gao and Timbuktu, she said. A Mission presence would later be set up in Kidal. To support the elections, the Department had begun transporting election materials to Gao and Timbuktu. MINUSMA would support and supervise the cantonment of combatants in Kidal, one of the most challenging environments in the country. “MINUSMA is rightly considered to be one of the most logistically challenging missions the United Nations has ever launched,” she said.
Those challenges, she continued, were due to the harsh, hot, desert climate in northern Mali, where most of the operations would be located. In Gao, where there was no functioning power grid, energy needs would be met through mobile power generators. All information and communications technology, vehicles and refrigeration would be exposed to climatic conditions that would expedite their decay. Further, mobile communications systems to Kidal would not be able to be deployed because their sensitive components would melt. Water availability would be limited, particularly in the arid north.
As airfields in northern Mali were unable to service large aircrafts, the Organization would rely on military helicopters for most air transport needs, she said. Road infrastructure in the north was spotty, often consisting of little more than sand over long stretches. Security was also a challenge. Despite the agreement with the MNLA in Kidal, there were still armed groups that had sworn to oppose and attack the United Nations at every opportunity.
The Department, she went on to say, had deployed some of its most experienced mission support colleagues to lead the effort in Bamako, noting that others were “chipping in”, including the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which had lent its B200 aircraft to meet short-term needs, and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which had made reserve equipment available for immediate delivery. As well, the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) had made available air assets, equipment and a range of back office support functions, including human resources, finance and procurement staff.
Inter-mission cooperation, shared services and a smaller footprint, which would create less risk to staff, were central features of the MINUSMA start-up and operations, she said. There was also a strong emphasis on flexibility, pragmatism and timely action to meet staffing, financing and start-up requirements. She warned, however, that in Mali, the challenges could not be underestimated. Much was beyond the Department’s control.
TIEMAN HUBERT COULIBALY (Mali), recalling that in the two weeks since the Council had adopted resolution 2100 (2013) establishing MINUSMA under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, large-scale fighting had ended around the main urban areas in the north of the country. As well, there currently was widespread confidence in the transfer of authority from AFISMA to MINUSMA. Fully endorsing the Secretary-General’s appeal for the deployment of that new Mission, he said that, on 18 June, the Mali Government had signed a Preliminary Agreement calling for inclusive peace talks and for the holding of presidential elections. “This is an important step in re-establishing the territorial integrity of Mali,” he said.
* *** *