An official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said a fact-finding mission is scheduled to arrive in Mali’s capital, Bamako, Thursday to ascertain the extent of the security and humanitarian problems caused by fighting.
“The team comprises an officer of the ECOWAS standby force, a political affairs specialist and a humanitarian affairs specialist,” said Sonny Ugoh, communications director for ECOWAS, “because we want to holistically look at the issues of security, politics and issues of the humanitarian challenges arising from the [conflict].”
The U.N. refugee agency said at least 22,000 people in northern Mali linked to a Tuareg rebellion have fled to neighboring countries to avoid the fighting. The U.N. body estimates 10,000 people have arrived in Niger, with many sleeping out in the open. It estimated that another 9,000 fled to Mauritania and 3,000 more to Burkina Faso.
The rebels launched a new rebellion on January 17th clashing with government forces in several northern towns.
Ugoh said the sub-regional bloc’s team’s report will determine the organization’s next line of action to help contain the security and humanitarian crisis.
“[They] will get a sense of the reality on the ground… and then be able to make an assessment as to what has happened and how we need to respond,” said Ugoh. “We will also talk to the stakeholders, as much as possible, so that we are able to come to a reasonable sense of the reality on the ground.”
The sub-regional bloc’s mission report and recommendations are expected to be presented to ECOWAS’ Immigration and Security Council, which consists of foreign ministers of member countries in the region. The ministers are scheduled to deliberate on the report at their meeting scheduled for February 15th to find ways of resolving the security and humanitarian challenges Mali faces.
“We expect that instructions will come from the meeting as to how best we can respond to the crisis,” said Ugoh.
Ugoh said ECOWAS is encouraging the government to engage the Tuareg rebels to resolve the ongoing crisis.
“It will be in the best interest of the sub-region, and Mali, for the insurgents to dialogue with the government of Mali. That way their concerns behind the rebellion will be addressed,” said Ugoh. “There is always a virtue in engagement, and I think dialogue will be the best solution as they talk as Malians to address their common problem and find a common way forward without necessarily creating a crisis.”