What's In Blue

Posted Sun 2 Feb 2014

Dispatches from the Field: The Security Council in Bamako and Mopti

BAMAKO and MOPTI: Council members had their first full day of meetings in the Council’s first-ever visit to Mali today (2 February). Council members visited the town of Mopti (600 km from Bamako) and held a series of meetings with local authorities and civil society organisations. They also had the opportunity to visit a UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp that hosts a Togolese battalion and an injured peacekeeper in a field hospital as well as be briefed by the leadership of the mission on the activities conducted by the eleven UN agencies present in the region. Back in Bamako they were received by the President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and some members of his cabinet.

Mopti

Council members left early in the morning from Bamako for Mopti, which is an hour’s flight from the capital. Even though the town was never occupied by jihadist groups, three of its cercles or administrative regions—Douentza, Ténenkou and Youwarou—were taken over in 2012. (France and Chad, the co-leads of the visiting mission, in a move shared by most Council members, had included a visit to Timbuktu or Gao in earlier stages of the planning of the mission, but both initiatives were advised against by the UN Department for Safety and Security.)

Upon landing in Mopti, the delegation, which also included the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Albert Gerard Koenders and his two deputies, Abdoulaye Bathily and David Gressly, met with the governor and other local authorities, who were joined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Zahabi Oul Sidi Mohamed and the Minister for Territorial Administration Moussa Sinko Coulibaly. Council members received a presentation on the many security challenges Mopti faces, including insecurity pockets, the threat posed by potential dormant jihadist cells, arms proliferation and increasing rates of petty crime. They were also briefed on the negative impact of the conflict on the local economy, not only by the fighting itself in some of the region’s cercles, but by the arrival of many internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the north, the depletion of natural resources and the potential for the social exclusion of many unemployed youth.

Council members met civil society from Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti, including women and youth organisations, IDPs and religious leaders. Even though some Council members were wary of the attendance of local authorities and the ministerial delegation to the meeting, it seems a frank exchange followed, focusing on the ostracism faced by the victims of gender-based sexual violence, the lack of economic opportunities and its impact on the recovery of civil society from the crisis and the need for not just armed groups but also victims and the community at large to be part of a national inclusive dialogue. Other issues were raised during the exchange with Council members on the extent of the food crisis in rural areas, the protection of cultural heritage, the poor delivery of basic services in rural areas and the still scarce state authority over Kidal.

Council members also visited a MINUSMA camp close to the airport of Mopti, in Sevare. They received a briefing by the MINUSMA leadership on the security situation in the north and the mechanisms in place to assess threats. (The most recent report of the Secretary-General (S/2014/1) noted “a marked deterioration of the security situation in the north” and highlighted how terrorist groups have “reorganised themselves and regained some ability to operate”.) It seems the risks of a security vacuum between the retreat of the bulk of French forces and MINUSMA’s arrival to its full operational capacity were raised by MINUSMA’s senior leadership. Council members visited the camp and its field hospital, managed by Togolese peacekeepers, and paid a visit to a Chadian peacekeeper who had been injured recently.

Bamako

After landing in Bamako, Council members were received in the Kolouba Palace by President Keïta. This key meeting took place in the wake of local press reports highlighting tensions between MINUSMA and the government over new preconditions for a national dialogue. (The 18 June Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement signed between the government and armed groups already included as preconditions for the latter to reject the use of violence and respect the unity of the country.) President Keïta briefed Council members over the preparation of a soon-to-be-adopted roadmap for the national dialogue. In response to questions by Council members on the sequencing of such a process, President Keïta stressed the importance of disarmament as a key precondition. (Disarmament of armed groups was already a key issue in the negotiation of the Ouagadougou Agreement and the initial cantonment of these groups was agreed as a compromise.) He highlighted the developments his government had undertaken to encourage dialogue such as Assises du Nord, Assises du Gao and the États Généraux de la Décentralisation conferences and the establishment of a Commission of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. He also stressed the need for victims to be listened to, including civil society from the north and criticising those armed groups that are seen to have the monopoly over dialogue. Some Council members were left with the impression that if the roadmap is too far removed from the spirit of the Ouagadougou agreement and overly demanding preconditions are established, the process might soon be deadlocked and the tensions with the armed groups could rise.

Tomorrow Council members are expected to reiterate their call for an inclusive and credible negotiation process open to all communities in northern Mali in meetings with the Prime Minister and other cabinet members, recently elected members of the parliament as well as armed groups signatories and adherents of the Ouagadougou agreement. Tomorrow, Council members will also be briefed on the work of the EU Training Mission (EUTM) and Opération Serval by their respective heads on the measures taken to improve the security situation.

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