UN troops set to leave Mali, but how fast?

United Nations MUNISMA peacekeepers patrol the streets of Gao, eastern Mali on August 3, 2018. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 3, 2018 urged Malians who voted for him to turn out for a second round next week while his run-off opponent Soumaila Cisse called on parties to forge a “broad democratic front” against the incumbent. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

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(AFP) – With the imminent end of the UN‘s Mali peacekeeping mission seemingly no longer in doubt, negotiations at the UN are still foundering over the timetable for their departure, which Bamako wants “without delay”, according to diplomatic sources.

On June 16, taking everyone by surprise, Mali‘s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, while denouncing the “failure” of the UN mission, suddenly demanded before the Security Council its immediate withdrawal.

The peacekeeping operation, known as Minusma, was the most expensive mission on the UN‘s books, costing $1.2 billion per year, now appears set to wind down, plunging Mali — a country struggling with jihadist attacks — into the unknown.

As recently as early June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had deemed the continued presence of Minusma “invaluable,” despite the high cost, highlighting regional fears of an expansion of extremist groups in the event of a withdrawal.

However, one of the key principles of peacekeeping is the consent of the host country.

Therefore, the latest draft resolution from France on Wednesday, seen by AFP, suggests the Security Council will “terminate Minusma’s mandate under resolution 2640 (2022) as of June 30 2023.”

The mission created in 2013 to help stabilize a state under a serious jihadist threat, and to protect civilians, would cease its activities on July 1 to focus on the withdrawal, “with the objective of completing this process by 31 December 2023.”

“The [UN} Secretariat has begun discussions and planning for an orderly exit, identifying the multiple aspects and layers of such a massive and complex endeavour,” a peacekeeping spokesman told AFP.

“Securing the constructive cooperation of the Malian authorities will be essential to facilitate the process,” he added.

– Securing the Blue Helmets –

While some members of the Security Council fear the proposed six-month withdrawal period is already too short to organize the safe departure of more than 12,000 soldiers and police from the landlocked African country, several diplomats told AFP the Malian junta wants to shorten it.

“The UN will need to transport a lot of equipment out of the country by road. This cannot happen overnight,” said Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group.

“The Malians are likely suspicious that the UN is looking for ways to cling on in Mali in the hope that Bamako will eventually reverse its decision on throwing the mission out,” he said. “Trust on both sides is very low,” he added.

“The hope is really that we can adopt by the end of this week a draft that is taking into account what Mali wants and really shows that there is absolutely no intention from the UN to stay one day more than what is strictly necessary,” said one diplomat.

“But at the same time, we have no intention of compromising on anything related to the security of peacekeepers,” he said, noting that “Russia is supporting Mali‘s demands.”

The UN mission was created in 2013, taking over from an African-led mission as Mali was in the grip of an Islamist rebellion that continues today. It has been criticized for its inability to protect civilians from jihadist attacks.

Mali has been under military rule since an August 2020 coup. Its military rulers have increasingly imposed operational restrictions on peacekeepers, and also broken Mali‘s longstanding alliance with former colonial power France.

© Agence France-Presse

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