With security in northern Mali worsening and peacekeepers increasingly targeted, it was urgent for ongoing peace talks to make progress without delay, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations told the Security Council this morning.
“It is important for an agreement to be reached that makes it possible for a consensus-based return of national institutions to the north,” Hervé Ladsous said via videoconference from the country’s capital, Bamako, in a briefing that also heard from Abdoulaye Diop, the Malian Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Integration and International Cooperation.
Mr. Ladsous, who said he was in Bamako to convey United Nations solidarity at the funeral ceremony for nine blue helmets from Niger killed last week in what he called “a cowardly ambush”, updated the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation of 22 September (document S/2014/692).
The report welcomes the launch of formal peace negotiations in Algeria between armed groups and the Government of Mali, but also notes that the period was marred by ceasefire violations, which included “territorial gains made by the armed groups and clashes between armed groups, including self-defence militias reportedly ethnic-based and close to the Government”.
Commending Algeria’s “effective and active” role in facilitating the negotiations, Mr. Ladsous described the current stage of the process as “very delicate, but very important”. He said that while the Government and the international community firmly supported the process, the parties continued to stick to their positions. A credible effort was needed to find a compromise based on mutual trust and goodwill.
The goal, he said was a united Mali, with impartial and effective governance, rule of law, access to basic services and recognition of social and ethnic identity. The Government had agreed to those aims while firmly rejecting federalism.
As the talks went on, however, the security situation was of increasing concern, he said, with peacekeepers paying a steep toll, particularly in the last few months. Thirty-one had been slain and sixty-six wounded since the deployment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) 13 months ago.
The reduction of the French troops in the north, he said, combined with what he called “a quasi-disappearance” of the Malian Armed Forces from many places, had created a situation in which MINUSMA was the main obstacle to the continued free and “nefarious activity” of armed groups, thus making it a target.
“We are no longer in a peacekeeping environment,” he said. Improvised explosive devices, rockets, mortars and suicide attacks had been used against MINUSMA. To address the threats, the Mission, with the support of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was working to “harden the protection of our bases, our camps, our people”, despite tremendous logistic challenges.
However, Mr. Ladsous stressed, United Nations personnel could not face the threat alone. The support of all armed groups, all Malians in the north, and neighbouring countries was needed to carry out the declaration in Algiers that condemned terrorism. “Everyone must use every means possible to affirm that MINUSMA cannot be a target,” he said.
Foreign Minister Diop, also emphasizing the magnitude of the terrorist threat in the north, warned that Iyad Ag Aghali, the head of the terrorist group Ansar Eddine, was now in the area and had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS). “My country, as well as all the countries of the Sahel, runs risk of attracting hordes of terrorists from around the world,” he said.
He called on the Security Council to send a strong signal to terrorists and protect MINUSMA personnel by revising the Mission’s mandate and strengthening its means to face the dangerous situation on the ground. He suggested the deployment of a rapid intervention force that was capable of fighting terrorists.
Reaffirming support for and cooperation with MINUSMA, Mr. Diop also reiterated that his Government was committed to achieving a comprehensive and effective peace through the talks in Algiers.
In that light, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s report, citing its language on the need for armed groups to immediately end hostilities and prepare for the cantonment of their units. He also welcomed the report’s call for all parties to recognize the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Malian State, to discuss all unresolved questions with an open spirit, and to fight against terrorism.
That was precisely the kind of message he needed to get across in Algiers in his role as Chief Negotiator for the Government team, he underscored. It was also the message that Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita conveyed at the recent opening of the General Assembly and the high-level side event on Mali.
Mali, he said, always honoured its commitments and had followed through on the July agreement for talks. He underlined, however, that it had consistently and categorically rejected creation of a federation or another State within the Malian State, which violated the country’s Constitution and contradicted the Algerian process road map.
Therefore, he said, the armed groups must show realism and take the extended hand of the Government, which was responding to the aspiration of the people of the north by agreeing to greater local management within a renewed and shared Government.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:35 a.m.