TANZANIA – Tensions between Russia and the West are heating up talks over the future of one of the United Nations’ largest and most dangerous peacekeeping operations, the force dispatched to help Mali resist a decades-long Islamist extremist insurgency.
The UN’s mission in the West African nation is up for renewal this month at a volatile time when extremist attacks are on the rise. Three UN peacekeepers were killed this month alone. Mali’s economy is stifling sanctions by neighboring countries after its military rulers postponed a promised election. France and the European Union end their own military operations in Mali amid deteriorating relations with the government junta.
UN Security Council members are largely in agreement that the peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA must continue. But a council debate this week was marred by friction over France’s future role in Mali and the presence of Russian military companies.
“The situation has become very complex for negotiations,” said Rama Yade, senior director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.
“The international context matters and Mali is part of the Russian game on the international stage,” she said.
The peacekeeping mission began in 2013 after France led a military intervention to evict extremist rebels who had seized towns and cities in northern Mali the year before. minus ma now counts around 12,000 soldiersplus about 2,000 police and other officials. Have more than 270 peacekeepersdied.
France is negotiating to extend the mission’s mandate and is proposing to continue air support to France. The top United Nations official for Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, said the force was particularly in need of attack helicopter capabilities.
But Mali firmly opposes a continued French air presence.
“That’s why we call for respect for the sovereignty of our country,” Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the Council on Monday.
Mali asked France, its former colonial ruler, for military aid in 2013. The French military was credited with driving the insurgents out of Timbuktu and other northern centers, but they regrouped elsewhere, began attacking the Malian army and its allies, and pressed further south. According to a UN report this month, the government now controls only 10% of the north and 21% of the central region.
However, patience with the French military presence is waning, especially in the face of rising extremist violence. There have been a series of anti-French demonstrations in the capital, which some observers suspect were sponsored by the government and a Russian mercenary organization, the Wagner Group.
Mali has drawn closer to Russia in recent years as Moscow has sought to forge alliances and gain influence in Africa – and both countries are at odds with the West. Senior Malian and Russian officials have been hit by European Union sanctions triggered by Russia’s crackdown on Ukraine since 2014 and Mali’s failure to hold elections promised for this past February.
Against this background, the members of the Security Council argued about the presence of the Wagner group in Mali. The Kremlin denies any connection to the company. but Western analysts say it is a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to gain influence in Africa.
According to allegations by the EU and human rights organizations, the Wagner Group has committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In Mali, Human Rights Watch accused Russian fighters and the Malian army of killing hundreds of mostly civilian men in the city of Moura; Mali said those killed were “terrorists”. The UN peacekeeping force is investigating, as is the Malian government.
The latest UN report on Mali noted a “significant increase” in reports of human rights abuses by extremists and Malian forces, sometimes accompanied by “foreign security personnel”. “Have no illusions – this is the Russian-backed Wagner Group.”
Mali says otherwise. While officials said Russian soldiers are training the Malian military as part of a long-standing security partnership between the two governments, Diop insisted to the Security Council that “we know nothing about Wagner”.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a TV interview in May that the Wagner group was in Mali “on a commercial basis”.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Anna Evstigneeva told the Security Council that African countries have every right to hire mercenaries. And she indicated they had every reason to, saying that Mali’s security “continues to falter” despite European military efforts.
She branded Western unease about Russia’s closer ties with Mali as “neo-colonial approaches and double standards.”
Secretary General Antonio Guterres is planning a six-month review to examine options for converting MINUSMA.
To Sadya Touré, a writer and founder of a women’s organization called Mali Musso, told the council her country “should not be a battleground between great powers”.
“People are the ones suffering the consequences of these tensions.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/19/russia-west-tensions-inflame-un-debate-on-mali-peacekeepers/ Tensions between Russia and the West ignite UN debate over peacekeeping forces in Mali