posted on Mon 6 Apr 2020 7:49 PM
Mali: Informal Meeting on MINUSMA via Videoconferencing

Tomorrow morning (7 April), Security Council members will convene an informal open videoconference (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC meeting, on the situation in Mali and the activities of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Special Representative and head of MINUSMA Mahamat Saleh Annadif is expected to brief during the open session. The format would usually be a Council briefing, followed by consultations, as part of its quarterly meetings on Mali, but tomorrow’s format reflects the temporary changes to the Council’s working methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Mali meeting will be the first open VTC in the Council since it adapted its working methods in March, only the briefer’s statement will be webcast. Members are likely to issue press elements that address the impact of COVID-19 in Mali, the implementation of the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and the security situation, including efforts to step up military operations against the regional terrorism threat.

According to the Secretary-General’s 20 March report, “there have been significant advances in the peace process and towards the full implementation of the peace agreement”, despite the dire security situation in much of northern and central Mali. In an important step towards implementing the agreement, 770 troops from the first reconstituted units of the national army—composed of national troops and integrated forces from the north—were redeployed in February and March to the northern cities of Kidal, Timbuktu, Gao and Ménaka. The Agreement Monitoring Committee (CSA) resumed its monthly meetings in January, after not meeting since August, and the signatory parties have also taken steps to increase women’s participation in the implementation of the peace agreement, which is among the priority areas that the Council specifies in resolution 2480 of June 2019. More recently, the first round of Mali’s long delayed legislative elections took place on 29 March, despite a challenging security environment and concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Members may welcome these developments, while still underscoring the need for the parties to make more progress.

Attacks by terrorist groups, recent fighting among those groups, and their involvement in intensifying intercommunal violence continue to destablise Mali. Annadif is likely to mention the 25 March kidnapping of main opposition leader Soumaila Cissé while campaigning in the Timbuktu region in the days before the election. While most of the members of his team have been freed, Cissé remains missing. In the latest violence, today, at least 20 Malian soldiers were killed in an attack by militants on their base in in the northern town of Bamba.

For tomorrow’s session, a new key concern that members will be interested in discussing with Annadif is COVID-19’s impact on the implementation of MINUSMA’s mandate and the peace agreement. On 23 March, Mali recorded its first two cases of COVID-19, and as of this morning (6 April) has 45 confirmed cases, including one MINUSMA staff member, which the mission announced on 4 April. Annadif is expected to inform members of measures that the mission has already taken to mitigate the impact, and mission preparedness to treat personnel. This includes the UN’s decision to suspend all troop rotations in peacekeeping operations until 30 June, other than on an exceptional basis, as determined by Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix. International staff arriving in Mali are to stay quarantined for 15 days. During a meeting organized last week by the Netherlands, the Department of Peace Operations informed member states that MINUSMA is trying to maintain normal operations to the greatest extent possible, but has halted some non-essential activities, such as capacity-building. Today a MINUSMA press release described measures that the mission and the World Health Organisation are taking to support the Malian government in its COVID-19 response, including training and acquisition of vital medical equipment.

Annadif may also observe that the pandemic risks slowing down implementation of the peace agreement. The planned March meeting of the CSA did not take place due to concerns over COVID-19. The “catch-up phase” of the accelerated disarmament, demobilization, reintegration process, to integrate an additional 510 former combatants into the national armed forces (in addition to the approximately 1300 combatants already integrated), was just postponed. The threat of the pandemic could affect the holding of the second round of the legislative elections, which for now remains scheduled for 19 April.

Another prominent issue that may be discussed tomorrow is implementation of the Secretary-General’s adaptation plan for MINUSMA. The plan was developed to increase MINUSMA’s presence in central Mali after resolution 2480 in June 2019 established the mission’s “second strategic priority” of supporting the government in stabilizing the situation in the centre of the country. The Secretary-General’s report provides new details about this plan, which seeks to establish a mobile task force that would include:

  • two quick reaction force units; three special forces units; two long-range reconnaissance units; four medium utility helicopter units; three armed helicopter units; one attack helicopter unit; one C-130 tactical airlift aircraft unit; two fixed-wing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units and four units with unmanned aircraft systems; two forward surgical teams and eight explosive ordnance disposal teams; and
  • require the expansion of existing bases in Gao and Mopti and a new air strip in Kidal.

According to the Secretary-General’s report, the cost of the adaptation plan means a net increase of five percent over MINUSMA’s 2019/2020 budget, which will be a focus of the General Assembly Fifth Committee discussions during May before the Council must renew the mission’s mandate by 30 June. The COVID-19 pandemic has so far prevented the holding of a planned 3 April force generation conference to obtain the required capabilities, though the Secretariat is still engaging states bilaterally to generate commitments.

Tomorrow’s meeting is also likely to cover efforts since the start of this year to step up military operations in response to the expansion of terrorist attacks across the Sahel. At a heads of state summit in Pau, France on 13 January, France and countries of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—reaffirmed their commitment to combat terrorism and created a new Coalition for the Sahel that is open to other partners. This coalition will combine security measures, efforts to restore authority and capacity building, and development initiatives. It includes concentrating immediate military efforts in the Liptako-Gourma tri-border region with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger under the joint command of France’s regional counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane, and the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which has since been set up in Niamey. Since then, France announced that it was deploying 600 additional troops to reinforce Operation Barkhane, increasing its size to 5100. Czechia, Denmark, Estonia and Sweden have also indicated that they will contribute special forces to the French-led Task Force Takuba that is expected to become operational later this year to train, advise, assist and accompany local forces in fighting terrorist groups in the Sahel. Council members may further emphasise the need to complement security initiatives with programmes, including within MINUSMA, to address the structural causes of instability such as under-development and weak governance.

For further background on recent developments in Mali, see our April Monthly Forecast.