Mali asks United Nations to withdraw peacekeeping force

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Mali’s interim military authorities on Friday asked for a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force to leave “without delay”, citing a “crisis of confidence” between Malian authorities and the decade-long UN mission known as MINUSMA.

It marks a major turning point for the West African country, which has struggled to stem an insurgency that took root following an uprising in 2012. MINUSMA was deployed by the UN Security Council in 2013 to support foreign and local efforts to restore stability.

Frustrations over the growing insecurity spurred two coups in 2020 and 2021 and the ruling junta has been increasingly at loggerheads with MINUSMA and other international allies including France.

“Unfortunately, MINUSMA seems to have become a part of the problem in fuelling inter-community tensions,” Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the 15-member council.

“This situation is begetting mistrust among the Malian population and also causing a crisis of confidence between Malian authorities and MINUSMA,” he said. “The Malian government asks for the withdrawal, without delay, of MINUSMA.”

Security Council members must adopt a resolution to extend MINUSMA’s mandate by June 30. A resolution requires at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to pass.

The junta has burnt bridges with traditional Western allies and turned to Russia for help boosting its military capabilities. Western governments are worried about the presence of Russian private military contractor Wagner.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council on Friday that the peacekeeping mission could only be successful if there was “very close coordination with the host country and respect for sovereignty of Mali.”

“The real issue is not the number of peacekeepers but the functions, and one of the key tasks for the government of Mali is fighting terrorism, which is not provided for in the mandate of the blue helmets,” Nebenzia said.

The priority tasks of the mission – as mandated by the Security Council – are to help stabilize Mali by supporting a political transition, protect civilians under threat of physical violence, promote and protect human rights and create a secure environment for humanitarian aid deliveries.

Violence has spiralled since 2015 with attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State spreading to Mali’s neighbours in the Sahel region. Thousands have been killed and over six million displaced, according to the U.N.

French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said that a UN report to the council had stated that despite dialogue between MINUSMA and the Malian authorities, UN peacekeepers were still being impeded in their movements.

“Since the arrival of Wagner in Mali this restriction has only increased as have serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” de Riviere said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended this month that the Security Council extend MINUSMA’s mandate for a year, maintaining the current authorized strength of some 15 000 troops and police.

When asked about Diop’s remarks on Friday, the UN special envoy to Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, said a decision on the future of MINUSMA was up to the council.

“Clearly peacekeeping operations operate on the basis of consent from the host country and absent that consent operating in a specific country would be extremely challenging, if not impossible,” he told reporters.