Political dialogue priority in Mali, not military force: UN official

Friday, December 07, 2012
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman 
presents the Secretary-General’s report on Mali to UNSC. 
[PHOTO: UNifeed] 
New York: The top UN political official, Jeffrey Feltman has told the Security Council that a military operation may be required as a last resort to deal with terrorist and criminal elements in northern Mali, but priority must be on supporting the national authorities to restore constitutional order and reach a political settlement to the ongoing crisis.

Briefing the Security Council on Mali, where the security situation in the North has continued to deteriorate, Feltman  said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's position was clear: "He shares the urgency about the horrendous crisis facing Mali and he believes, at the same time, that the international response must be multi-dimensional and well conceived."

In his latest report to the Council on the situation in Mali, Ban stated that inaction by the international community may prolong the suffering of those in the north who are living under the "brutal yoke of the extremists" and are seeing their cultural heritage being destroyed.

His report recommends that the "strategic operational framework", a document prepared by the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),  provides "a good basis" for the Council to authorize the Chapter VII mission. The AU/ ECOWAS framework supports the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), comprising 3,300 military personnel.

At the same time, the report stresses the need for additional planning before the actual deployment of any such force.

The Secretary-General has proposed benchmarks for the possible commencement of military operations. They include the demonstrated operational readiness of the international and Malian forces, positive developments in the peace process, and the effective training of both forces' personnel on their obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.

Following Feltman's briefing, Minister of Foreign Affairs and African Integration of Mali, Traore Rokiatou Guikine, expressed hope for a prompt Security Council action that would allow the immediate deployment of the international force to address the suffering of the population in the north and the threat of terrorism. "There is an urgent need to act," said the Malian official, "to prevent Mali from becoming a breeding ground for terrorism and organised crime."

However, the report raises questions about how the international and Malian forces would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed.

Addressing the issue on how the operation would be financed, the African Union Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Antonio Tete outlined the AU proposal to establish a UN support package, which would be funded through assessed contributions. Furthermore, he called for a dedicated trust fund to be established, which could provide support to the Malian defense and security forces.

"Mali is at a crossroads. Time is of essence. We need to act fast and to send a clear and strong message on the resolve of international community and its support to the African-led efforts", he said.

Mali has been dealing with a range of security, political and humanitarian problems since the start of the year. Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country's north in January. Since then, radical Islamists have seized control of the north, where they have imposed an extremist version of Muslim Sharia law as well as restrictions that target women in particular.

The renewed clashes in the north, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d'état in March have uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians this year.  Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee the north, and an estimated five million people have been affected by the conflict.

The Secretary-General intends to establish a full-time UN political presence in the Malian capital, Bamako that will be responsible for interacting with key stakeholders and report to both the Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, and his Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi. -UNifeed
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