UN Mission in Mali Deploys While Malian Government Confirms ElectionsJuly 2, 2013 in Africa
The United Nations has commenced its military mission in Mali, effectively bolstering the mission in a country that remains to be threatened by militants and which is just weeks away from what many believe could be chaotic elections. The UN mission, known as MINUSMA, is bringing 6,000 West African troops, who are already in the country, under its command. The operation will eventually double in size as by December of this year, the UN force will reach its full strength, with 12,600 uniformed personnel under its command. It will be the world body’s third largest mission. During the launch ceremony, which was held in Bamako, mission chief Bert Koenders stated that “MINUSMA’s military force will be reinforced gradually in the coming months,” further noting that “contingents will deploy in the main population centers in northern Mali… But MINUSMA cannot do everything. We are here to support the efforts of the government and its partners.” The UN force will operate alongside troops from its former colonial power France, some of whom will remain in the country in order to tackle the remaining Islamist militants who continue to pose a threat to the security of the entire country. There are currently around 6,000 troops, mainly from West African countries, however the UN is still seeking soldiers, helicopters and intelligence support from contributing countries before the mission is fully up and running by the end of this year.
Although the UN force is expected to eventually take over security duties from the French forces, which led an operation to oust Islamist militants from the northern region of the country back in January, its first mission will be to secure the north so that Mali can hold nationwide presidential elections on 28 July. Despite weeks of uncertainty pertaining to the elections, the interim Malian government confirmed on Tuesday that the elections will go ahead as planned. The decision to hold the first round of elections on 28 July, which will possibly be followed by a second round on 11 August, was taken by the Malian government which was increasingly under pressure from the international community, and especially from former colonial power France, to set an election date. However Mali’s election commission, which is organising the vote alongside the government, has stipulated that the distribution of polling cards was seriously behind schedule and that it would be “extremely difficult” to get nearly eight million cards out in a country where 500,000 people have been displaced by the conflict which has lasted more than a year. Furthermore, the election commission also highlighted the ongoing instability that is taking place in the northeastern town of Kidal, which continues to be occupied by Tuareg separatists and which still has seen no army presence despite a ceasefire being signed between the transitional government and the rebels on 18 June in Burkina Faso. In response to the confirmation of elections, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon stated that holding a poll on July 28 that was credible, peaceful and accepted by Malians would be “an enormous undertaking.”