Briefing the United Nations Security Council in the wake deadly violence that rocked the northern Malian town of Kidal this past weekend, the top UN official in the country urged all parties today to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions and avoid further provocation to keep the long-troubled region from sliding back into crisis.
"The priority today is to pull Kidal back from the brink of renewed confrontation. It is absolutely imperative that all actions are taken to avoid further violence," said Albert Koenders, head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a military coup d'état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical Islamists.
As for the violence over the weekend in Kidal, demonstrations were underway in the town ahead of a planned visit to the region by Prime Minister Moussa Maraand. Further, Malian troops were reportedly battling rebels that had laid siege to local government offices, Mr. Koenders said, and eight civilians and members of local administrative authorities were summarily executed. Two MINSUMA peacekeepers along with 21 MINUSMA police officers were injured.
Thirty-two people who had been captured were later released with the assistance of the Mission.
"It is essential to avoid northern Mali descending into a spiral of violence that risks drawing Mali back to the state of crisis that put the country on the Council's agenda and could destabilize the entire sub-region," Mr. Koenders said via videoconference.
"We need to encourage all concerned to take concrete steps - today - to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions and to avoid further provocation," he said, underscoring that the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by the French acronym MNLA, must hand over the Governorate and administrative buildings as soon as possible.
Such serious incidents during an important visit of the Head of Government of Mali highlight the country's political and security challenges, as noted by the United Nations in recent months and, most recently, as part of the strategic review of the MINUSMA.
"They illustrate in particular the complexity and difficulty of the return of state institutions in the north in the urgent need for progress on the political process," continued Mr. Koenders, stressing that armed actions against Kidal and the agents of the Malian Government are "absolutely unacceptable."
"Indifference is not an option. The population suffers when violence continues," he declared, adding that to prevent further loss of life, especially among civilians, it is crucial that initiatives at the political level be urgently prioritized, as provided by the preliminary Ouagadougou Agreement and requested by the Security Council in its resolution 2100 (2013).
He said that the UN remains deeply committed to the effective restoration of the sovereignty and State authority of Mali on the whole of its territory, "including and even especially in Kidal." The return of State authority in northern Mali is necessary for a resolution of the root causes of conflict in Mali, he added.
Continuing, he told the Council that UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson had called President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta yesterday and conveyed his extreme concern at the recent violence.
Mr. Eliasson had stressed the importance of following a political path to solve the current crisis. While he acknowledged that the recent fighting in Kidal had unleashed a strong and understandable emotional reaction in large parts of the population, Mr. Eliasson appealed for calm and stressed the need to de-escalate tensions.
"[So] the priority for tomorrow is to revive the political process. The international community should be unanimous in impressing upon the armed groups that are signatory or adherent to the Preliminary Agreement of 18 June 2013 - particularly the [MNLA] - that their grievances can only be addressed and resolved through peaceful and political means, said Mr. Koenders.
He said the UN would continue to assist the parties in the process of reconciliation and political dialogue and he hoped that the launch inclusive peace talks would immediately begin to repair the country's social fabric, which after the past few days, had crumbled.
"More violence will only breed further violence and risk reversing the progress achieved to date," said Mr. Koenders, warning that if the fighting were to grind on, the people of Mali would be the first to suffer, "as they have all too often in the past."