The United Nations is concerned about the reported military movements of rebel groups along the frontline in northern Mali, as well as related tensions, a spokesperson for the world body said today.
"We ask the Malian rebel groups to abide by Security Council resolutions 2071 and 2085 calling for them to cut off all ties with terrorist organizations," the spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, added in a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.
According to media reports, on Thursday, Islamist rebels seized control of Konna - a city of 50,000 people some 700 kilometres north-east of the capital, Bamako.
Northern Mali has been occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels - just one of several security, political and humanitarian problems the West African nation has been dealing with since last year.
The renewed clashes in the north, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d'état in March have uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians. Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee the country's north, and an estimated five million people have been affected by the conflict.
The Malian Government and rebel groups are expected to meet for peace talks in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, on 21 January.
"We urge adherence to the cessation of hostilities declared on 4 December 2012 in Ouagadougou and continue to call on the parties to engage in dialogue to address the situation," Mr. Nesirky told reporters.
He added that the United Nations is supporting the mediation efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and "we look forward to the resumption of negotiations which are now scheduled for 21 January."
Citing the threat to regional peace from terrorists and Islamic militants in rebel-held northern Mali, the Security Council adopted resolution 2071 in October last year. Amongst its various points, it held out the possibility of the 15-member body endorsing an international military force to restore the unity of the West African nation.
It also called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to support the Malian political process and provide military and security planners to ECOWAS, the African Union and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali's Transitional Authorities for such a force.
With resolution 2085, adopted in December last year, the Council authorized the deployment of that international military force - the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, to be known as AFISMA - for an initial period of one year.
In his remarks to the media, Mr. Nesirky also said that the Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, continues supporting the political talks in Mali, including on the establishment of an inclusive national dialogue and the development of a roadmap for transition. In addition, he noted that Romano Prodi, the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel - in which Mali is located - is in Bamako.
AFISMA is tasked with contributing to the rebuilding of the Malian Defence and Security Forces, as well as supporting the Malian authorities in "recovering the areas in the north under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups and in reducing the threat posed by terrorist groups."
In addition, it will be responsible for, amongst other tasks, supporting the Malian authorities in their primary responsibility to protect the population and to create a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees.