By Edward McAllister
DAKAR (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on Friday to end a decade-long peacekeeping mission in Mali after the West African country’s military junta abruptly asked the force to leave “without delay”.
Here is a look at MINUSMA’s operations in Mali and why they are expected to end come Saturday.
WHY ARE UN PEACEKEEPERS IN MALI?
The 13,000-strong mission was deployed by the Security Council in 2013 to support efforts to restore stability after al Qaeda-linked insurgents and separatists took over parts of the desert north in 2012. French forces initially forced the militants to retreat, but they bounced back. Violent attacks have persisted and spread into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, killing thousands and creating one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises. About 170 peacekeepers have died in fighting, the most of any ongoing U.N. mission.
WHAT DOES MINUSMA DO?
MINUSMA has protected major cities and its conflict mediation has helped cool ethnic disputes in rural areas. It provided medical evacuations for Mali’s under-equipped army. It has coordinated peace talks between rival armed groups in the north following a 2015 peace agreement known as the Algiers Accords, and was helping arrange elections scheduled for next year. But its operations have been hobbled by restrictions on air and ground movement imposed by Mali’s junta since it teamed up with Russian private military contractor Wagner Group in 2021. Access to conflict zones or to investigate the sites of alleged rights abuses was repeatedly delayed or denied, the U.N. says.
WHY ARE THEY EXPECTED TO LEAVE?
Relations with Mali’s leaders, who consolidated power in two coups in 2020 and 2021, have frayed. Bamako wanted MINUSMA to play a more active fighting role, while the U.N. wanted more freedom of movement. Mali’s government was angered by a U.N. report in May which accused the army and “armed white men” of killing 500 civilians in the town of Moura last year. On June 16, Mali Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told MINUSMA to leave immediately. Before Diop’s comments, MINUSMA had been expected to renew its mandate for another year. A draft Security Council resolution asks MINUSMA to start a handover on Saturday and withdrawal of personnel by Dec. 31.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR MALI?
Security experts worry that MINUSMA’s sudden withdrawal will lead to more chaos in Mali where the army will be left alone with about 1,000 Wagner fighters to battle the militants. Major towns will be vulnerable to attack. Signatories of the Algiers Accord worry that it could fall apart without U.N. mediation, leaving the north vulnerable to another uprising. International oversight of the conflict, including probes into alleged abuses by all sides, will now likely cease.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Alison Williams)