UNITED NATIONS— The United Nations’ top envoy in Mali warned Thursday that the security situation remains tenuous because of the continued threat of terrorist attacks.
U.N. Mali envoy Albert Koenders said terrorist attacks in the north increased in the last part of 2013, killing civilians, four U.N. peacekeepers and two French journalists.
“The terrorist threat has always been at the core of concerns. An upswing in terrorist activities confirms those concerns which we have consistently shared with you,” he said.
Those activities include a number of bomb attacks that the U.N. says indicates that armed groups have reorganized themselves and regained some ability to operate.
Koenders told the U.N. Security Council that effective stabilization of Mali's northern region required political and security cooperation between the U.N. mission - MINUSMA - and local and international partners.
Last year, armed groups in the north led a rebellion and seized control. French forces intervened at the request of the government and in July, an African military mission was converted to a U.N. peacekeeping force, which is deployed primarily in the restive north.
Koenders said only about half the U.N. mission’s 11,200 troops were in place and less than a quarter of its police element, and he urged countries to accelerate deployment of personnel and equipment.
France’s U.N. ambassador, Gérard Araud, told reporters his country was winding down its involvement and would have decreased its troop presence to about 1,000 by later this year; but, he said that did not indicate any lack of commitment to Mali.
“We came to Mali one year ago in very difficult circumstances. We have in a sense taken human and political risks," he said. "We have invested a lot. We are not going to run away from Mali. It’s very clear. We are not running away from Mali.”
On the humanitarian front, the U.N.’s Koenders said there have been improvements in getting children back to school in the north, rehabilitating health centers there and providing access to clean drinking water. He cautioned that challenges remain.
“Almost half a million people remain displaced within Mali and in neighboring countries. At least 800,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance. Another 2.4 million people remain moderately food insecure and their situation risks worsening during the upcoming lean season,” said Koenders.
He said the priority now must be to begin inclusive peace talks to cement gains made by last year’s elections and to address the root causes that led to the rebellion.