Said Djinnit, Special Representative for West Africa, Briefs:
Urging the Security Council to maintain its strong support for the leaders and countries of West Africa, the Head of the United Nations Office there called for greater international attention to a raft of complex challenges plaguing the region, where notable political progress was being offset by the ongoing crisis in Mali and the rise of organized crime and terrorism in the Sahel and other areas.
"West Africa [continues] to face significant challenges to governance, peace consolidation and conflict prevention, as illustrated by the crisis in the Sahel and especially in Mali, as well as in Guinea-Bissau," said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Said Djinit, as he briefed the Council today on the efforts of the United Nations and its partners to help the leaders of the long-troubled region address a host of pressing issues - from tackling drug trafficking and other criminal activity, to preparing for peaceful and credible elections.
Updating the Council on the situation in Mali and the wider Sahel, he said he was working closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other stakeholders to support implementation of the African Union Strategic Concept adopted in October 2012. That plan emphasized Malian leadership, stressed the need for coordinated and sustained United Nations support, and set out seven objectives for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).
Mr. Djinit also highlighted a series of consultations he had held in the subregion aimed at fast-tracking the implementation of Council resolution 2085 (2012), especially the political process, as the preparations for the military deployment were ongoing. He had travelled to the Malian capital, Bamako, on 20 and 21 December, to encourage the authorities to strengthen the much-needed national cohesion to move forward with relevant tasks.
That visit had focused in particular on adoption of the road map to end the transition, including through the holding of elections, as well as to prepare for negotiations with armed groups willing to cut off ties to the terrorist groups and to recognize Mali's territorial integrity. He said that while preparations had been under way with the ECOWAS Mediation for a subsequent round of negotiations - initially envisioned for 21 January, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - the decision of Ansar Dine to renounce the cessation of hostilities, and the southward advances by the extremist elements had precipitated acceleration of the military track.
Those advances had prompted the Malian authorities to seek assistance, and the subsequent decision by France to launch a military intervention to pave the way for the deployment of AFISMA was widely supported by the international community. "All these developments have marked a turning point that has changed the focus to the military track," he said, calling on all parties and forces to ensure full compliance with international humanitarian and human rights norms.
Since the beginning of the hostilities, he had visited Ouagadougou and Abuja, on 13 and 14 January, respectively, to engage with the ECOWAS Mediation and the President of the ECOWAS Commission. He had also travelled to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on 18 and 19 January, to participate in the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council, as well as in the ECOWAS Summit of Heads of State and Government. That Summit had confirmed the readiness of the Heads of State of the subregion to deploy AFISMA, but had also highlighted some of the key challenges ahead, including in terms of logistical support, coordination, and command and control, for which the support of the United Nations and partners was requested.
While he welcomed the commitment Council Members had consistently expressed in support of the military and political tracks proceeding hand in hand, Mr. Djinit said the international community must ensure that the political process was not neglected and that efforts to consolidate and strengthen the transition process continued. "It is now essential that the Malian authorities finalize the road map to end the transition through an inclusive and consultative process, before its adoption," he said, also underscoring that preparations for the holding of elections continued in earnest to ensure that the polls could be held as soon as feasible.
Further, it would be necessary to eventually pursue a broad reconciliation process that strengthened the foundations for national cohesion in Mali. The recently deployed United Nations team in Bamako would be fully available to support that process, and he would personally continue to do the same. In the coming weeks, he would also be supporting mediation efforts that involved engaging with non-terrorist groups and other representatives of the northern populations of Mali towards achieving a lasting solution to the issue in northern Mali.
"I wish to stress that the situation in Mali exemplifies the fragility and vulnerability that prevails in the whole of the Sahel region, while at the same time the Malian crisis has far-reaching implications for the subregion," he said, explaining that, as developments unfolded in Mali, the risks for infiltration and destabilization were real in some of the countries that bordered it, as illustrated by the efforts of neighbouring countries to tighten security along the borders.
The overall terrorism threat in the subregion had been exacerbated by the crisis in Mali and he welcomed recent efforts of Mali's neighbours and other West African countries to step up preventive security measures. "However, we have to remain mindful of the limitations faced by [those countries], and enhance international support in the areas of border control, counter-terrorism, among other priorities," he said, adding that all this highlighted the importance of the United Nations initiative on the Sahel spearheaded by Special Envoy Romano Prodi, and which UNOWA and the United Nations regional team were backing fully.
Beyond the crises in Mali and the Sahel, he said the region continued to face the threat posed by piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea. Since his last briefing to the Council, UNOWA had facilitated the convening of two meetings of the Steering Committee established by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Commission of the Gulf of Guinea on implementation of Council resolution 2039 (2012), in Libreville on 22 and 23 October 2012, and in Abidjan on 17 and 18 December 2012, respectively.
He was pleased to report that there was now agreement on convening a ministerial conference of the States of the Gulf of Guinea in Benin, in March 2013, to be followed by a Summit of Heads of State in Yaoundé to launch the process of finalizing a strategic framework for the fight against piracy and maritime organized crime. In preparation for those meetings, the Steering Committee had endorsed a draft memorandum of understanding between ECCAS, ECOWAS and the Commission of the Gulf of Guinea on security in the maritime space of West and Central Africa, as well as a draft of the Political Declaration to be adopted at the Summit.
Turning to other issues, he said that tensions along the borders between Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, and with other neighbouring countries, remained a source of concern. He welcomed the cooperation extended by the neighbouring countries of Côte d'Ivoire and encouraged them to continue their efforts to foster lasting peace in that country and in the region as a whole. Building on the inter-mission cooperation between United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), UNOWA was promoting the development of a subregional strategy to address the threat of cross-border movements of armed groups and weapons, as well as trafficking.
He went on to say that the situations in Guinea-Bissau and in Mali continued to illustrate the extent to which organized crime had developed its activities and extended its reach, thus threatening to seriously undermine governance and security in the subregion. At the same time, some positive steps to counter their impact had been taken during the last six months. In particular, the ECOWAS Commission, with the support of UNOWA and other bilateral partners, had initiated encouraging steps towards the implementation of its Regional Plan of Action to Address the Growing Problem of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and Drug Abuse in West Africa. He added that UNOWA was considering convening a donors' conference to garner further support for the strategy.
Regarding electoral processes in the subregion, Mr. Djinit stressed the need to remain vigilant to avoid election-related violence. He commended the successful holding of general elections in Ghana and Sierra Leone, and praised the supportive role played by ECOWAS in that regard. "Their successful outcome, including the fact that challenges have been addressed through the legally established channels, provides reason for hope", he said, noting, however, that concerns remained regarding developments in other countries where elections were to be held in 2013, including Mali, Guinea and Togo.
"It is essential that genuine dialogue between Governments, opposition and civil society is pursued in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation to create conditions for the holding of peaceful and credible elections are to be created," he said, adding that UNOWA, for its part, would continue its good offices efforts to encourage dialogue whenever needed. Highlighting the importance of partnerships and of other United Nations-backed efforts in the region, he drew the Council's attention to the very important progress that had been achieved by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission in demarcating the boundary between the two countries.
Concluding his presentation, he said West Africa remained at a crossroads. On the one hand, the region's leaders had made significant progress towards the promotion and consolidation of peace, and were taking decisive efforts to address pressing challenges to peace and security. "On the other hand, the situation in Mali and in the Sahel, combined with other cross-cutting threats, including drug trafficking and piracy, has the potential to undermine security in West Africa," he said, adding that the root causes of instability in the region remained to be fully addressed. Against that backdrop, the continued attention and support of the international community, in particular the United Nations and the Security Council, to ECOWAS leaders and countries, remained essential towards ensuring lasting peace, stability and development in the subregion.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and adjourned at 10:24 a.m.