United Nations launches one of its largest ever peacekeeping missions in Mali
The African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) on July 1st transferred its authority to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in a colourful ceremony in Mali’s capital, Bamako. The event was presided over by Mali’s Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, General Yamoussou Camara, and attended by a host of dignitaries, national and international, the African Union said in a press release.
During the ceremony, AFISMA troops symbolically took off their hats and donned the UN blue berets, thus launching the 16th UN peacekeeping mission in the world, which when fully deployed, will have 12,600 military and police uniformed personnel and become the 3rd largest peacekeeping Mission in Africa.
Major-General Jean Bosco Kazura of Rwanda has been appointed as MINUSMA Force Commander.General Kazura has over 24 years of national and international military experience, as well as command and staff experience. Until this most recent appointment, he was the Commandant of the Rwandan Defence Forces Combat Training Centre, the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) and the UN reported.
Prior to the handover MINUSMA head Bert Koenders briefed the UN Security Council by video-link from Bamako on the security situation, the mediation and national reconciliation process, the preparations for the July 28th presidential election and the humanitarian and human rights situation in Mali.
Critical Shortfalls in a Challenging Environment
The UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Herve Ladsous told the Council that the UN is still seeking pledges for important outstanding capabilities, including helicopters, intelligence, information operations and special forces.
He said that the UN was deploying a mission in a new geo-political context with asymmetric threats not previously encountered in a UN peacekeeping environment.
Among the unique challenges facing the mission are the harsh climate, state of infrastructure and vast geographic area.
UN Under Secretary-General for Field Support, Ms. Ameerah Haq said that MINUSMA was one of the most logistically challenging missions the UN had ever launched. “We already know that certain technological options are out of the question, for example, we are unable to deploy our mobile communications system to Kidal because its sensitive components will melt.”
She also noted that water availability was limited, particularly in the arid north, the airfields in the north were unable to service large aircraft, road infrastructure in the north was “spotty” and there were still armed groups which had sworn to oppose and attack the UN. Nevertheless, 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, ReliefWeb reported.
The UN Security Council has authorized MINUSMA “to use all necessary means” to carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artefacts and create the conditions for the provision of humanitarian aid.
Breakthrough Deal with the Touaregs
On June 18th, the government signed a deal with the rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) that will allow its army and civil servants to enter the strategically important northern town of Kidal for the first time since the jihadist offensive began in March. This means that the elections slated for July 28th will be able to be held throughout the territory.
The agreement was brokered in talks in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso by the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) appointed mediator, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré,
Kidal is the provincial capital of the Saharan north-east of Mali. The MNLA fighters moved in there after Islamic Jihadists fled the French intervention force.
The proposal is for a a gradual return of the Malian army in the city and the billeting of rebel troops. French and UN troops are likely to supervise the Malian military’s operations to help calm Touareg fears of reprisals by government forces. The Touaregs are blamed for the 2012 catastrophic collapse of the rule of law and the power vaccum that allowed Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) and splinter jihadist groups to impose harsh Islamic law in areas under their control. Human Rights groups say Touaregs need protection from retaliation and mistreatment.
The deal with the MNLA was widely welcomed at home and abroad as a step towards national reconciliation. French President Francois Hollande told a meeting of his cabinet the agreement was “a major breakthrough”, his spokesman said.
The US also welcomed the deal. “The agreement clears the way for the return of Malian administrative and security authorities to Kidal to permit the holding of presidential elections there on July 28th,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
But analysts raised a number of problems with securing a long-term ceasefire, such as difficulties monitoring any disarmament; and differentiating Touareg militants from the diverse range of insurgents infesting Mali’s north.The logistics of the disarmament is another obstacle to be cleared and the larger problem, say military sources, is that Islamist insurgents continue to hide out in northern Mali.
Rights campaigners have accused Mali’s army and different rebel groups of a string of abuses during the French-led operation.
Amnesty International said civilians were among dozens of people tortured, killed and disappeared, including while in detention. It accused the French military and African troops of handing over prisoners to the Malian authorities “when they knew or should have known the detainees were at real risk of being tortured or ill-treated”.
Amnesty began a research mission in Mali in May and collected testimonies of abductions and arbitrary killings of civilians by Islamist militias including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the MNLA.