Success in tackling the ongoing crisis in Mali requires strong military action along with intense focus on the political challenges, while also addressing the dire humanitarian situation in the country, top United Nations officials stressed today.
Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali last January, after which radical Islamists seized control of the area. 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 the course of 2012.
In December 2012, the Council adopted resolution 2085, authorizing the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), for an initial period of one year to assist the authorities in recovering rebel-held regions in the north and restoring the unity of the country.
"Whether the international community is successful in helping Mali restore its democracy and recapture its territory in a lasting way will depend on the breadth of its vision and the comprehensiveness of its response," Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said in a briefing to the Security Council.
"Vigorous military actions must be matched by an equally strong focus on the political challenges in Mali," he stated. "They must be carried out with full attention to human rights and humanitarian concerns. And they should be reinforced by strategies to address the many transnational threats that combine to breed extremism and weaken governance not just in Mali but across the Sahel."
Mr. Feltman reported that the deployment of AFISMA troops and headquarters staff officers began on 18 January. There is general agreement among key stakeholders in the capital, Bamako, that the envisaged AFISMA strength of 3,300 personnel needs to be increased in order for it to engage effectively in offensive operations and enhance force protection, he noted.
Due to the accelerated deployment of AFISMA troops, critical equipment, logistical and other support for the troops is urgently required, Mr. Feltman stated, adding that the mission is currently facing "critical" gaps, including communications capacity, air mobility and medical capabilities.
"In order for AFISMA to become operational and implement its mandated tasks, the force requires critical logistical support," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an address to the General Assembly today.
Mr. Ban has sent a letter to the Council, outlining several options for UN logistical support for the mission, as well as several concerns regarding capacity, human rights, and the safety and security of UN personnel and facilities.
"Let there be no doubt, we are firmly committed to helping Mali in its hour of need," Mr. Ban underscored. "At the same time, any assistance must fall within UN guidelines, including its due diligence policy on human rights. Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously.
"As the international community responds to the security threat, let us remember that Mali is also a political challenge. It was the coup and the collapse of Mali's democracy that opened the way for extremists. Military gains must be matched by efforts to restore full constitutional order and legitimacy in Bamako, while leaving the door open to negotiations with those groups that renounce terrorism," added the Secretary-General.
Mr. Ban will discuss the situation in Mali with African and international partners when he attends the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this weekend.
Meanwhile, the start-up team for the establishment of the UN multidisciplinary presence in Mali arrived in the capital over the weekend. The head of the UN team in Bamako, João Honwana, has already begun discussions on a transitional roadmap, including regarding reconciliation, with Malian partners.
"The United Nations will continue to impress upon the Malian leaders the need to agree quickly on a transitional roadmap to restore effectively constitutional order," said Mr. Feltman. "We urge others to reinforce that message, for reliance on an exclusively military approach will be unable to build a lasting solution for Mali."
He also voiced serious concern about the well-being of the population in the north of the country, where malnutrition rates were already reaching emergency thresholds before the resumption of the conflict, while stating that, despite the challenging environment, the UN and its partners are working to address the most pressing needs.