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Ban calls for urgent action to reunify Mali

2012-11-29 11:07

New York - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for urgent action to help Mali's government and people reunify the country in a report to the UN Security Council, first by promoting political reconciliation and as a last resort by a military operation to oust al-Qaeda and hardline extremists from the north.

Mali was plunged into turmoil in March after a coup in the capital of Bamako created a security vacuum. That allowed the secular Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by Mali's government, to take half the north as a new homeland.

But months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamist groups allied with al-Qaeda, which have now imposed strict Shariah law in the north.

"Northern Mali is at risk of becoming a permanent haven for terrorists and organized criminal networks," Ban said in a report circulated to the UN Security Council late Wednesday.

"Urgent action is required to help the Malian government and people reunify their country, bring about a swift return to constitutional order, and deprive al-Qaeda and its affiliates of a platform that enables them to threaten the Malian state, neighboring countries and the international community as a whole."

The secretary-general said that before any military action is launched the focus must be on initiating a broad-based political dialogue and addressing the longstanding grievances of the Tuaregs.

Key political actors

"The urgent need for progress on the political track cannot be overstated," Ban said.

He said the political process must focus on four objectives: formulating a roadmap for a political transition, negotiations with armed groups in the north that renounce terrorism, preparations for the holding of elections, and promoting national reconciliation.

"The internal divisions in Bamako constitute the single greatest obstacle to progress on the political track and must be addressed as a matter of urgency," Ban said. "I am particularly concerned that the launch of the national dialogue has been postponed due to a lack of consensus among key political actors in Bamako on its format and composition. It is imperative that this important forum begin its work without further delay."

While Ban expressed fervent hope that the country can be reunified through negotiations, he said it is likely there will be "some terrorists and criminals with whom no dialogue is possible."

"Every passing day brings with it the risk of a further entrenchment of terrorist groups and criminal networks," he said. "Yet, I am profoundly aware that if a military intervention in the north is not well conceived and executed, it could worsen an already extremely fragile humanitarian situation and also result in severe human rights abuses ... [and] also risk ruining any chance of a negotiated political solution to the crisis."

On November 13, the African Union asked the UN Security Council to endorse a military intervention to free northern Mali. The plan, agreed to by leaders of the West African bloc known as Ecowas, calls for 3 300 soldiers to be deployed to Mali for an initial period of one year.

Ban welcomed the effort that went into the plan but reacted cautiously to the proposal.

"Fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered," he said. "Plans for both the international force and the Malian security and defense forces need to be developed further."

Offensive operations

In addition, he said, outside support will be needed to train, equip, provide logistics and funding for both forces.

Should the Security Council authorize the proposed African-led International Support Mission for Mali, which would be known as AFISMA, Ban said it must ensure that all troops are held accountable for their actions.

He suggested specific benchmarks before the start of offensive operations. These should include "the demonstrated operational readiness of the Malian forces and AFISMA," positive developments in the political process, and the effective training of military and police in both forces in their obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, he said.

The African Union requested the Security Council to authorise a UN support package for the offensive military operation but the secretary-general said this raised "serious questions" for the UN's image and provision of humanitarian aid and longer-term efforts to stabilise Mali.

"Furthermore, the United Nations has limited ability to deliver a support package in the near term to a combat force," Ban said.