By Cecilia Ologunagba
New York, Aug. 28, 2023
The UN envoy to Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, says while its peacekeeping operation in Mali (MINUSMA) draws to a close by the end of the year, the UN remains committed to supporting the country’s stability and development.
Wane, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, said this on Monday in New York while briefing the Security Council on the Mission’s withdrawal process.
MINUSMA may be leaving Mali, but the United Nations, through its agencies, funds, and programmes, remains, he said.
“Their work has never been as vital as it is today,” he said, welcoming assurances received from Malian authorities regarding security of UN personnel.
Wane called for additional funding for the UN Country Team and all humanitarian workers there to enable them to continue supporting Mali’s development efforts.
MINUSMA was established by the Security Council in 2013, following a coup in 2012.
Over the past decade, it has become the UN’s most challenging peacekeeping mission, suffering over 303 fatalities amid continuing extremist violence and rampant insecurity across much of the north and centre.
By December, the mission’s 12 camps and one temporary operating base will be closed and handed over to transitional authorities, while its uniformed personnel numbering about 12,947 will be repatriated.
Civilian staff will also be drawn down, and equipment – a load of approximately 5,500 sea containers and nearly 4,000 vehicles – relocated to other missions or repatriated to the countries that provided them.
In early August, MINUSMA convened a roundtable with authorities to brief them on what it has achieved over the past 10 years, as well as what remains to be accomplished.
“A lot remains to be done obviously. And the objective was to help them prepare as much as they can to take over…and continue the stabilisation efforts we have been supporting for the past 10 years.’’
In addition, he said the UN was in Mali before MINUSMA was deployed, noting that it will continue to offer support to the Malian people and government.
Wane also highlighted that the Mission is committed to ensuring the closest coordination possible so that its departure does not result in a void that could make the country more unstable and civilians more vulnerable.
The withdrawal process, outlined in Security Council resolution 2690, has been structured in two phases, with the first phase underway since July.
This phase involved the closure of MINUSMA’s smaller outposts and camps located in remote regions.
Wane spoke of the progress which had been fraught with challenges.
He recounted the difficulties encountered during the closure of MINUSMA’s Ber camp, including an arduous 51-hour journey – to cover a mere 57 kilometres or 35 miles – to Timbuktu through difficult terrain, made worse by the rains and insecurity.
“The convoy was attacked twice by unidentified extremist elements, injuring four peacekeepers and damaging three vehicles,” he said.
The second phase, scheduled to last until mid-December and focusing on the closure of six more bases, also presents logistical and security challenges.
These include covering distances of up to 563 kilometres – about 350 miles – and managing over 1,050 truckloads of equipment, while braving the threat of ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
At the same time, the political dimension cannot be overlooked, Wane said, noting disagreements vacated camps between Mali’s military and the Signatory Movements of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali.
He highlighted the urgent need for common ground to avoid incidents that could hamper the withdrawal process and jeopardize the prospects for resuming the peace process.
The UN envoy also noted that the situation in Niger, in the aftermath of the current military takeover, also impacts MINUSMA’s withdrawal plan, given that routes to ports in Cotonou (Benin) and Lomé (Togo) cross Niger.
“It is crucial that we can transport equipment and materials across Niger to these ports for their subsequent repatriation to the concerned troop and police-contributing countries,” he said.