YAMOUSSOUKRO— Heads of state from the West African bloc ECOWAS met Wednesday in Ivory Coast to discuss transitioning the military intervention in Mali to a United Nations peacekeeping mission. The regional body’s military intervention in Mali, which lost its northern territory to Islamist militants last year following a March coup, dominated the talks. The deployment of African troops was not expected to begin until later this year, but that plan was scuttled last month after France intervened to prevent the Islamists from advancing toward the Malian capital, Bamako.
Last month, ECOWAS officials and other countries involved in the intervention decided to increase the original African troop commitment from 3,300 to about 8,000. Ivorian Foreign Minister Charles Koffy Diby said Monday that between 65 and 70 percent of those troops now are deployed.
France is hoping for a speedy pullout from Mali, and has pushed for establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country.
In his remarks at the start of the summit Wednesday, ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said that transition would be a prime focus of the day’s deliberations.
“He says it is important to start thinking now about the process of transforming AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission in Mali] into a United Nations peacekeeping mission based on specific modalities,” said Ouedraogo.
Mali remains fragile
Serious concerns remain about the political situation in Mali. A shaky interim government is in charge amid concerns that military officers are running matters behind the scenes.
Ouedraogo said this “political dimension” could not be overlooked, and he praised last month’s adoption by the Malian National Assembly of a “transitional roadmap, which paves the way for a political resolution of the crisis.”
In the military realm, the protection of human rights has assumed greater urgency amid reports that Malian soldiers have taken part in torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances. The soldiers allegedly are targeting people they accuse of supporting the Islamist militants, who fled to mountains in far northern Mali after the French intervention.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called for urgent investigations and prosecutions of soldiers involved in such abuses. Ouedraogo suggested Wednesday that these abuses could potentially jeopardize the success of the intervention.
“It is also important to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in order to prevent abuses and reprisals that could undermine the credibility of our action,” he said.