Important steps have been taken recently to help restore constitutional order and stability in Mali, including successful presidential elections, the top United Nations envoy there said today, while noting some key remaining tasks such as addressing security and humanitarian challenges.
“The new authorities are confronted with numerous challenges that need to be addressed urgently to enable Malian men, women and children to live in security and to benefit from peace dividends,” Bert Koenders told the Security Council as he briefed the 15-member body on the latest developments.
Mr. Koenders, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said he remained concerned about the fragile security situation, notably in the north of the country.
Since early 2012, Mali has witnessed a military coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical Islamists.
A significant step towards the full restoration of constitutional order was the successful presidential poll conducted this summer, following which Boubacar Keita was sworn in as the new President. Last month, Oumar Tatam Ly was appointed Prime Minister and a new 34-member Government was announced.
“Malians have clearly, clearly signalled their desire to turn the page following the troubling events of the recent past – the occupation of the north by extremist groups, the coup d'état, the collapse of national institutions, amongst others,” said Mr. Koenders.
“Despite this progress, it’s clear that the real work has but started,” he added, noting priorities such as national reconciliation, the conduct of legislative elections, the launching of inclusive peace negotiations to deal with the deep-rooted causes of the Malian crisis, restoration of the authority of the State, and the consolidation of security throughout the whole territory.
The authorities have announced that the first round of legislative elections will be held on 24 November, with a second round planned for 15 December. Mr. Koenders said this would enable the setting up of a new parliament and a conclusion to the electoral cycle.
The “recent and worrying” security incidents in Mali are, he said, an important ‘wake-up call.’ After a period of calm that facilitated the holding of the presidential elections and the cantonment of armed groups in Kidal, increasing tensions and acts of provocation resulted in clashes throughout the month of September in various localities in the north.
The envoy stated that the effective stabilization of the northern regions remains challenging partly due to the complex nature of the conflict, including the threat of asymmetric attacks by extremist elements. In addition to the security threat from the armed groups and terrorists, which mainly affected the northern regions, the authorities had to contend with tensions within the armed forces.
“Despite these security challenges, the overall improvement of the situation in Mali has opened up new prospects for Mali’s recovery and longer-term perspectives,” said Mr. Koenders. “But the development and humanitarian needs of the country remain daunting.”
He said he was “shocked” by the malnutrition levels in the country, and noted that the $477 million humanitarian appeal is only 37 per cent funded, at $177 million.
“The near-collapse of the Malian State last year was not just a coincidence,” he stated. “The country has been facing recurrent crises in the course of the last decades. We should also not lose sight of the regional dimension of the Malian crisis and make progress in implementing an integrated Sahel strategy.
“As we move forward, it is important not to repeat the errors of the past but address the root causes of the challenges facing Mali, which also include the manner in which international partners have traditionally provided political and financial support. The time may be right for a critical reassessment of our engagement.”
He added that while the UN is striving to support the Malian Government and people, it is faced with a number of severe challenges. “The Mission lacks critical enablers – such as helicopters – to facilitate rapid deployment and access to remote areas to ensure the protection of civilians. Troop generation will have to accelerate.”
Enablers are particularly important, he said, within the context of security and logistical support for the forthcoming legislative elections and given the risks of asymmetric threats.