Differences on peace progress in Mali amid terrorist acts

EDITH M. LEDERER

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States and Belgium on Thursday criticized signatories to Mali’s 2015 peace agreement for failing to implement it while the U.N. secretary-general, France and others reported progress in the past year.

The opposing views at a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting reflected the frustrations and differences in trying to tackle the growing and multiple crises in Mali and Africa's broader Sahel region.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told members that terrorist and criminal groups are expanding their activities and exploiting longstanding tensions along community lines in Mali and the region — and they are attempting to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic.

Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president of a decade. The power vacuum that resulted led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led military intervention that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.

But insurgents remain active in the West African nation, and Mali is also under threat from extremists affiliated with the Islamic State movement. The extremists have been moving from the arid north into the country's more populated center since 2015, stoking animosity and deadly violence between ethnic groups in the region.

The 2015 peace agreement was signed in Algeria's capital by three parties — the government, a coalition of groups called the Coordination of Movements of Azawad that includes ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs who seek autonomy in northern Mali, and a pro-government militia known as the Platform.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the Security Council that “we must be clear-eyed about the pattern of failure by the signatory parties to implement the 2015 Algiers accord,” saying most benchmarks set by the council in last year’s resolution renewing the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali “have not been achieved,”

Craft said Mali’s constitutional reform and transfer of state services “is far from complete” and pilot development projects in the north haven't been implemented. She added that “while the goal of redeploying 3,000 reconstituted Malian forces only fell short by 500, many of these forces are far from operational and still receive support and protection from U.N. forces.”

Philippe Goffin, Belgium’s foreign minister and defense minister, also expressed regret that the council’s benchmarks “have for the most part not really been met,” saying that progress on implementing the 2015 peace agreement has been “too weak to guarantee a return to lasting peace.”

But Gutteres told the council that “in spite of protracted delays in its implementation, important progress has been registered over the past year.” He pointed to an inclusive national dialogue of Malians inside the country and in the diaspora, Mali's deployment of 1,330 former combatants to northern cities, and recent legislative elections that saw the election of three times as many women as in the previous legislature.

The U.N. chief said once the reconstituted military units are fully operational they will provide extra strength for Mali's forces to combat terrorism and restore state authority.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who presided over the council’s video meeting, also praised progress in Mali since 2012, citing the deployment of former rebels to the north and continuing progress on other aspects of the peace agreement “whether on decentralization, development of the north or the participation of women in the peace process.”

Still, Le Drian added, despite these something hard-won gains, “the situation in Mali and the Sahel remains extremely fragile,” pointing to continuing terrorist acts and the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a result of COVID-19.

Guterres has recommended that the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali be extended for another year, until June 30, 2021, at its current level of about 15,600 troops, police and civilians.

The U.S. ambassador said the U.N. force must ”begin planning its gradual withdrawal and eventual exit." from Mali and start by assessing when it can reduce troops. Craft also urged the council to start “incentivizing the parties to follow through on the mandate’s benchmarks.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said that “this is not the time to scale back.”

To make progress, he said, the international community must uphold its commitment to Mali and all Malian parties must fully implement the peace agreement, including ensuring human rights. Maas also called for expanding development and humanitarian assistance for Mali and the Sahel region, saying that “peace and prosperity will not be won by military means alone.”