UN Mission to Mali Extended, but Without French Air Support

The UN Security Council agreed Wednesday to extend a peacekeeping mission in Mali another year — but without French air support as in the past, compounding the risk for one of its deadliest peacekeeping operations.

“It’s a gamble,” one diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, alluding to the possibility that other European nations could abandon the weakened Integrated Stabilization Mission, known by its French acronym MINUSMA, which first began in 2013.

Mali, a poor and landlocked country in the heart of the Sahel, underwent military coups in August 2020 and May 2021.

The political crisis has gone hand in hand with a serious security crisis since 2012 and the outbreak of separatist and jihadist insurgencies in the north, spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The country is now ruled by a junta that has turned away from former colonial power France and its partners to Russia to try to stem the jihadist threat.

The violence has left 175 UN peacekeepers and thousands of civilians and soldiers dead, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

After relations with the current junta soured, France began withdrawing from the Sahel nation — but Paris had offered to continue air support for the UN force from outside Mali.

“This support is necessary for MINUSMA and to protect the peacekeepers,” French ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Riviere said during the negotiations in New York.

However, Bamako rejected the offer, with Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop telling AFP: “Mali strongly opposes any air support that (the French operation) might make to the (UN) mission on Malian territory.”

The resolution on extending MINUSMA’s mission until June 30, 2023 was adopted by 13 votes out of 15, with Russia and China abstaining.

It calls for maintaining MINUSMA’s current troop levels — 13,289 military and 1,920 police.

After the vote, de Riviere said MINUSMA’s freedom of movement must be guaranteed.

“The violations of human rights and international humanitarian law must stop,” he added.

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