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August 08, 2012

UN Considers Mandate for Troops to Mali

by Larry Freund

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council is discussing a proposal to deploy West African troops to Mali, where Islamist militants have seized control of the north, but is waiting for an official request from Mali's interim government before moving forward. 

After hearing reports on Mali from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and from the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, the Council met privately to review a mandate for sending a West African stabilization force to Mali.

Their conclusion was described by France’s ambassador Gerard Araud, president of the Security Council this month, who spoke with reporters.

“It’s obvious that ECOWAS is not going to deploy a force in Mali under a U.N. mandate without the official request by the legitimate authorities of Mali.  So I think the first thing we have to receive is a request coming from the authorities in Bamako,” he said.

Araud added that in legal terms, a U.N. mandate for the ECOWAS force is unnecessary if the Mali government were to request the troops from the African group.  But, he added, ECOWAS wants to have what he called the international legitimacy of the U.N.

“But of course we are not going to give this authorization - that was the general feeling of the Council - without being informed about what is the mission of the force, about what is the concept of operations,” said the French ambassador.

The goals of the ECOWAS force were spelled out for reporters by the ECOWAS Commissioner of Political Affairs, Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman.  First, she said, the troops would help to secure Mali’s transitional government.  Then they would help the Malian armed forces to restructure and be in proper shape to fight for re-establishing the territorial integrity of Mali.

Since Mali’s elected government was ousted by a military coup in March, Islamist militant groups have taken control of the northern section of the country.  Suleiman said ECOWAS is stepping up its mediation efforts in Mali.

“And if we succeed in getting the rebels in the northern part of the country to come and participate in government, if we succeed in getting rid of all the criminal activities that are taking place in the north of Mali, then there may be no need for going there as a force.  But if it becomes necessary, ECOWAS will indeed support the destructed Malian army to re-establish the territorial integrity of Mali,” she said.

In her formal remarks to the Security Council, Suleiman said the objective of what she called the terrorist groups and transnational organized criminals in northern Mali is clear - to create a safe haven and a coordinating center for continental  terrorist networks.  If that happens, she went on, no country in Africa or outside the continent will be safe.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his speech to the Security Council, called the situation in Mali deeply troubling.  He said he is extremely concerned about reports that armed groups in northern Mali are committing serious human rights violations, including summary executions of civilians, rapes and torture.

“I encourage the Security Council to give serious consideration to the imposition of targeted travel and financial sanctions against individuals or groups in Mali engaged in terrorist, religious extremist or criminal activities,” said the world body chief.

Ban urged the Mali government to develop what he described as an over-arching political strategy to return the country to constitutional order and establish state authority in the north.