Last week’s Security Council field mission saw evidence of great determination among regional actors in the Sahel to overcome security challenges through deployment of the internationally‑endorsed regional force, its leaders said in the Council Chamber this afternoon.
It was critical that such determination be accompanied by concrete progress in the Malian peace process and firm international support, François Delattre, President of the Council, stated as he led off a briefing on the 19 to 22 October field visit to Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso to assess the operationalization of the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (Sahel G‑5).
The mission, which also consulted with the Malian parties on accelerating implementation of their 2015 peace agreement, was co‑led by France along with Ethiopia and Italy, whose respective representatives, Tekeda Alemu and Sebastiano Cardi, also briefed this afternoon.
Mr. Delattre said that the African Union Peace and Security Council had also been invited to participate in the mission but was unable to send a representative. The organization welcomed the invitation, however, and expressed intentions to participate in future such visits.
In Mali, he said, the mission had visited with the country’s President and many national ministers. They unanimously affirmed their engagement in favour of the operationalizing of the joint force for the Sahel G‑5 in a timely and effective manner. Travelling to its general quarters in Sevare in the centre of the country, the mission saw that the joint force was already a reality. Initial operational capacity had been attained, a command post installed and preparations were being made for the first operation in the days to come.
Discussions were held with French and other European operations in the area, to understand planning for the complementarity of all security forces in the region. The deployment of the joint force would allow those other operations, as well as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to better fulfil their respective mandates, the leadership of the operations confirmed.
In discussions with the parties to the peace process, he said, the Government presented its view of advances that had been made, while the other signatories deplored the lack of Government action in that regard. He reminded the parties of the Council’s strong insistence, in its recent messages, that concrete, observable advances were made in common by all the parties by the end of 2017.
Visits with civil society in Bamako and Mopti allowed Council members to hear first‑hand the concerns of the population, he said. Women told the group of their interest in helping advance the peace process, as well as of their day‑to‑day vulnerability and their desires that the terrorist menace of the region be combatted.
Briefing on the mission’s leg to Mauritania, Mr. Cardi said that in that country as well the visiting mission met with high Government officials and visited the joint force headquarters. Mauritania, officials said, had long been at the forefront of regional security initiatives and intended to stamp out terrorism. Officials pointed out the close links between transnational organized crime and terrorist groups and described efforts to stem the spread of violent extremism.
Mr. Cardi said that officials of both the Government and the joint force were assured that the force was seen by the Council as a necessity for the region to be able to deal effectively with its security. The joint force leadership said that its motto, “Security and Development”, was a recognition that all security initiatives must go hand in hand with development efforts. Coordinated international support should follow the framework developed by the regional actors, the force leadership said. That message was amplified by other interlocutors, who all highlighted the magnitude of the challenges faced in the region. He hoped that the Sahel G‑5 could succeed in its ambitious goals.
Mr. Alemu said that the mission was an eye opener, showing how grave the challenges actually were in the Sahel and how much international support was needed before a tipping point was reached. He argued that a holistic approach was needed that integrated approaches to climate change and development matters with means of confronting the insecurity caused by crime, insurgency and terrorism. Given the efforts being made in the region itself to face those challenges, failure to come up with an appropriate positive response to their needs was unacceptable, he stated.
In Burkina Faso, where he had led the mission, he said that meetings with civil society and Government officials made a strong impression of how difficult the situation was, as tensions from Mali spilled over the border. Improvised explosive devices and other weapons had led to scores of deaths. People were afraid to go to the market and schools and other institutions had been burned down in an effort to undermine State authority.
Continuing, he said the Burkinabe leadership made an organized, detailed presentation of their policies to address insecurity as well as to end severe inequality and lack of services that were part of the cause of conflict. The need for international support to Government initiatives in all such areas was underlined. The country’s President, in addition, stressed the importance of regional cooperation and the centrality of the joint force in that regard.
Substantial and sustained support was therefore needed for the joint force, he said the mission was told by all Burkinabe officials. The porousness of borders was a critical problem and the force was an important means of redressing that problem. Mr. Alemu commented that the Sahel G‑5 countries were carrying the burden of regional security as far as they could. They had created a force that was ready to operate. The Council and the international community must firmly support them in that effort.
All three of today’s speakers extended condolences to MINUSMA and the Government of Chad on their losses of three “Blue Helmets” in northern Mali today. It was a sad reminder that such missions were often subject to attacks, Mr. Delattre added.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 3:39 p.m.