Mali has called on the United Nations to withdraw its peacekeeping operations from the country “without delay”, condemning its “failure” to address security challenges.
Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, who is part of Mali’s interim military authority, told a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday that the peacekeepers known as MINUSMA should withdraw from the West African country.
The head of the UN mission in Mali, El Ghassim Wane, said after a meeting of the 15-member council that it was “nearly impossible” to conduct a UN peacekeeping operation without the consent of the host country.
“It’s a decision the committee has to make,” he told reporters. “But the point I’m trying to make, and I believe it’s a point everyone agrees with, is that peacekeeping is based on principles agreed to by the host country, and without that, of course, action is next to impossible.”
Al Jazeera’s Kristin Salumi said the mission’s mandate expires at the end of this month.
“The foreign minister expressed concern that the UN has been working in the country for 10 years, and the violence and insecurity it was sent there to stop is only getting worse,” she reported from UN headquarters in New York City.
“He said this had led to a crisis of confidence among the people of Mali. There have been protests in Mali demanding the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers.”
UN Security Council members must pass a resolution extending MINUSMA’s mandate by June 30. It requires at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the US, Britain or France to pass.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the Security Council that peacekeeping operations can only succeed if they “coordinate closely with the host country and respect Mali’s sovereignty.”
“The real issue is not the number of peacekeepers, but the function, and one of the key tasks of the Mali government is to fight terrorism, which is not stipulated in the mandate of the blue helmets,” Nebenzia said.
The country’s military rulers have increasingly imposed restrictions on the movement of peacekeepers and broken Mali’s longstanding alliance with former colonial power France.
“The Mali government calls on MINUSMA to withdraw immediately,” Diop said.
“However, the government is willing to cooperate with the United Nations on this issue,” he added, rejecting all options proposed by the UN secretary-general to change the mandate.
In January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres proposed three options for modifying the mandate, from adding personnel to withdrawing troops.
In a report published earlier this week, he suggested an intermediate solution to the UN Security Council to “reconfigure” the operation to focus on limited priorities.
More than 300 peacekeepers have been killed since the mission began in 2013, making it the world’s deadliest UN mission.
MINUSMA was created to help stabilize the country after an ongoing insurgency sparked by the Tuareg rebellion the previous year. Rebels were forced out of power in northern Mali cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began attacks against the Malian army and its allies.
Discontent over growing insecurity has led to two coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, while the ruling military junta is increasingly feuding with MINUSMA and other international allies, including France.
“MINUSMA appears to be part of the problem, as communal tensions have been fueled by extremely serious allegations that are extremely detrimental to peace, reconciliation and national cohesion in Mali,” Diop said.
“This situation has created distrust of MINUSMA among the population,” he added, noting the recent release by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of a condemnation of the March 2022 rebel operation in Mugla.
The demand comes as the country prepares for Sunday’s election.
Malians will vote to approve or reject constitutional amendments that would strengthen presidential power ahead of a promised return to democracy from military rule.
The referendum is the first in a series of scheduled polls aimed at paving the way for presidential elections in February 2024, which Mali’s military leaders have pledged to hold under pressure from regional powers.