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Mali terrorist attacks show insecurity - UN

17 October 2013, 12:00

New York - Recent attacks by armed groups and terrorists are an important "wake up call" highlighting the challenge of stabilising the volatile north and restoring security to the west African nation, the top UN envoy to the country said on Wednesday.

Albert Koenders told the UN Security Council that the successful presidential election this summer and progress in recent months have opened up new prospects for Mali's recovery and longer-term future, but the recent attacks demonstrate the need to address the root causes of the country's near-collapse last year along with its serious humanitarian needs and shocking malnutrition levels.

He pointed to a suicide attack by extremist elements in Timbuktu on 28 September, the shelling of Gao on 7 October by other extremists, the tense situation in the northern city of Kidal, where volleys of gunfire erupted in late September, and tensions within Mali's armed forces, where at least 30 disgruntled soldiers kidnapped two officers amid sustained gunfire in the garrison town of Kati on 1 October demanding that their names be reinstated on a promotions list.

Mali fell into turmoil after a March 2012 coup created a security vacuum that allowed secular Tuareg rebels to take over half of the country's north as a new homeland. Months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists, many linked to al-Qaeda. When the Islamists started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive on 11 January to oust them, but remnants of the rebels remain.

Mali's minister for national reconciliation and development of the north, Cheick Oumar Diarrah, echoed Koenders, saying the return of armed groups, terrorists and jihadists represent a threat to stability, peace and security in the north "and for the Sahel as a whole."

He said the surge of terrorist activity in recent weeks requires the deployment of the Malian army throughout the country and greater support from the new UN force. He also called for a renewed commitment by the international community to combat terrorism and trans-border crime.

Democracy and stability

"We cannot lower our guard vis-a-vis the terrorist groups and jihadists so that the Malian crisis can be resolved and so that we can turn the page and move toward," resolving other pressing problems in the north but also in the south where there are serious food shortages and "more than 800 000 people are facing immeasurable difficulties".

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud called Mali's turnaround "a remarkable success story" and said the recent attacks were unorganized and "quite amateurish." But he agreed with Koender that they are "a wake up call" and stressed that "we must be vigilant."

France has more than 3 000 troops in Mali and President Francois Hollande said last month that a drawdown to 1 000 troops would be delayed slightly from the end of the year to the end of January 2014.

A new UN peacekeeping force known as MINUSMA took over from a 6 000-member African-led mission in Mali on 1 July with an authorised strength of 11 200 military personnel and a mandate to help restore democracy and stabilise the northern half of the country.

In a report to the Security Council circulated Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that as of 15 September, MINUSMA's troop strength stood at just over 5 200 following the withdrawal of an infantry battalion, which was from Nigeria. MINUSMA also lost about 150 Chadian troops last month.

Ban said the force needs two infantry battalions, an airfield engineering company to repair several airstrips in the north, and a special forces company and information unit to reach its authorized strength. It also needs utility and armed military helicopters, which are critical for MINUSMA's operations, he said.

- AP


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