Dispatches from the Field: The Security Council in Bamako
BAMAKO: Yesterday (3 February), Council members, on the second day of their visiting mission to Mali, held several meetings at the headquarters of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in Bamako, focusing on the need for an inclusive political process. They also met with armed groups that had signed or adhered to the 18 June 2013 Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement and civil society organisations. At meetings with the head of the EU Training Mission (EUTM) and Opération Serval,they focused on security threats and challenges. Finally, they met with the members of the executive and legislative branches, including Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly and other ministers as well as a delegation of members of the National Assembly and its President.
As they were about to depart Bamako yesterday night, Council members were given a road map prepared by the government outlining next steps to engage with armed groups under the auspices of Algeria and establishing a timeline for inclusive talks.
Meetings with armed groups and civil society organisations
In the morning, Council members met with 12 civil society organisations working mainly on human rights issues. Most of the representatives raised impunity as one of the key problems faced by civil society. These groups highlighted the lack of accountability for violations of human rights such as gender-based sexual violence Whether committed by ordinary citizens, armed groups, the Malian Security and Defence Force (MSDF) or other public officials. In a joint statement, they called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry for international crimes and other violations of human rights as provided for by the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement. Engaging in a lively dialogue with the representatives, Council members had the opportunity to ask questions on issues such as impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, the perceived ethnic component of the conflict in Mali and the importance of not forgoing justice in the quest for peace.
Council members also had two meetings with armed groups that have either signed or adhered to the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement. They first met with representatives of the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), the Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA) and the Ould Siddat faction of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA). The two signatories of the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement (MNLA and HCUA) raised the difficulties of cantonment of the armed groups given threats by Al-Qaida affiliated groups and the lack of guarantees for their security due to recent skirmishes with the MSDF in the north. The groups reiterated their support for the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement, their rejection of the use of violence and respect for the territorial integrity of Mali.
Separately, Council members met with the Coordination des Forces Patriotiques de Résistance (CFPR) and another faction from the MAA based in Bamako. While they were aware of the divisions between the armed groups, this point was driven home during this meeting. These groups (which adhered to the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement but were not part of the negotiations officially and whose positions are considered closer to the government), criticised the MNLA and HCUA for having repeatedly prevented them from attending the meetings of the Comité de Suivi et d’Evaluation, which is a follow-up mechanism to the Agreement chaired by the head of MINUSMA, effectively blocking its work. They also raised the role that Algeria can play in the resolution of the conflict if all armed groups accept its mediation. (On 16 January, MAA, HCUA and CFPR agreed to accept Algeria as a mediator, with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta also agreeing a few days later. The MNLA has so far not accepted the Algerian mediation and a 31 January visit to King Mohammed VI of Morocco from one of its leaders, Bilal Ag Cherif, was perceived as an attempt to engage Morocco as a possible mediator.)
Meetings with EUTM and Opération Serval
The head of the EUTM, Brigadier General Bruno Guibert, briefed the Council delegation on the training of four MSDF battalions and EUTM’s commitment to train four more in the near future. Council members stressed the importance of training troops in issues such as accountability and protection of human rights in order to prevent crimes and contribute to changing the perception of their presence among some communities in the north. Council members were also briefed by the commander of Opération Serval, General Marc Foucaud, who focused on the still existing threats from jihadist groups and the need to fully deploy MINUSMA in order to make sure the progressive drawdown of Opération Serval does not have a negative impact on the volatile security situation.
Meetings with the Executive and the Legislative Branches
Following yesterday’s visit to President Keïta, Council members met in the afternoon with Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly and several other cabinet members. Council members took advantage of the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister to elaborate on the government’s plan for holding a national dialogue, the possibility of considering disarmament as part of the negotiation and not as a precondition and the prospective timeline for the process. Ly announced that the government was finishing a road map which established a clear framework for an inclusive dialogue that would be shared with Council members shortly. Council members also raised issues pertaining to the ongoing reconciliation efforts such as the mandate of the recently created Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
In a meeting with members of the National Assembly and its president, which was marked by heated discussions by members about the format of the meeting and the time allocated for the parliamentarians to speak, Council members stressed the importance of the support of the National Assembly of the national dialogue initiatives carried out to address the root causes and reach a sustainable peace.
Press Conference and Conclusions
At the end of the day the Council delegation held a press conference. Council members had earlier agreed on a statement to reiterate key points and share some of their conclusions. The statement, which was read by Bante Mangaral, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Chad, congratulated the parties on progress made and noted the willingness on the part of many stakeholders to find a sustainable solution. While noting a slowdown in the implementation of the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement, Council members were encouraged by the willingness of the parties to move forward towards an inclusive dialogue. The statement further highlighted the importance of doing so urgently as the absence of an inclusive political framework carried the risk of exploitation by “troublemakers”. It also urged the parties to engage in inclusive discussions without preconditions and with a clear timetable in order to consolidate security gains as well as to encourage the process of cantonment, ultimately leading to a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.
Council members left with the impression that while there is a willingness to start a dialogue with all armed groups and communities in the north, now the challenge is to define the time, venue and terms of the dialogue. One point that may have become clearer for Council members is where this dialogue should take place. The government stressed at several meetings that they wanted it in Bamako. The co-lead of the visiting mission, Ambassador Gérard Araud (France), stated in the press conference that even though preliminary talks could take place in Algiers or elsewhere with the support of the international community, the final talks should take place in Mali. The need to do so as soon as possible was clearly highlighted as was the fact that having the process deadlocked only benefits the extremists as frustrated populations could turn to them if their demands for stability, reparation and economic recovery are not met.
As Council members were heading for the airport for the flight back to New York, they received a road map prepared by the government, which provided an idea of next steps in the political process. It seemed the document included the organisation of three seminars by MINUSMA, with the agreement of the government, to which all armed groups will be invited. The focus of these seminars will be on how to carry out the cantonment and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, lessons learnt from previous accords with armed groups in Mali and the return of state authority to the north. It seems the document also formally stated the willingness to start exploratory talks with armed groups under the auspices of Algeria.