Mali said Thursday it was suspending rotations of the UN’s peacekeeping mission for “national security” reasons, in the latest complication in ties between the ruling junta and international partners.
Rotations of the MINUSMA mission are being suspended, including those that have already been scheduled, the foreign ministry in Bamako said.
The suspension will last until a meeting is held to “facilitate the coordination and regulation” of the rotation of contingents, it said in a statement.
The announcement did not expound on the reasons for the move.
But it came four days after Mali arrested 49 Ivorian soldiers it later described as “mercenaries” intent on toppling the country’s military-led government.
Ivory Coast says the soldiers are so-called National Support Elements (NSE) — a UN procedure allowing peacekeeping contingents to use outside contractors for logistical duties.
The soldiers, who were arrested after arriving at Bamako airport aboard a special flight, comprised the eighth rotation under this scheme, according to Ivory Coast.
Mali’s statement on Thursday did not refer to the Ivorians’ arrest, nor did it give a date for talks to discuss MINUSMA rotations.
But it assured the UN mission that Mali would “work diligently to create conditions conducive to the lifting of this suspension of rotation, which is an essential step in enabling the deployed contingents to ensure the proper implementation of MINUSMA’s mandate.”
MINUSMA said in a terse statement it took note of Mali’s decision but stressed it was ready to engage without delay in discussions, adding that the rotations had a crucial role in maintaining its mission’s operational effectiveness as well as the morale of its personnel.
The statement added that “all must be done to resolve urgently” the issue.
MINUSMA — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali — was launched in 2013 to help one of the world’s poorest countries cope with a bloody jihadist campaign.
It is one of the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operations, with around 12,200 soldiers and 1,700 police sent by some 50 countries.
Its mandate was renewed for one year on June 29, despite Mali “firmly opposing” requests to allow freedom of movement for human rights investigators with the mission.
On July 7, MINUSMA head El-Ghassim Wane told a news conference that the mission needed the “support and cooperation of the Malian authorities,” calling for “constant dialogue” to overcome “misunderstandings.”
In mid-January, Mali suspended MINUSMA air operations for several days following what it said was a reorganization of the process for approving flights over conflict zones.
The suspension was lifted after “fruitful discussions,” authorities said.
MINUSMA operates regular flights between Mali and neighboring countries for supply missions and to evacuate wounded soldiers.
Meanwhile, France’s Barkhane anti-jihadist mission is expected to complete its pullout from Mali in the coming weeks after relations between Paris and Bamako foundered.
The junta has brought in Russians that it says are military advisers but which France says are paramilitaries of the controversial Wagner group.
In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said around 300 civilians had been massacred in central Mali the previous month by Malian forces and suspected Russian fighters.
Mali’s military regime also spent the first half of 2022 under economic sanctions by its West African neighbors over its failure to respect its timetable for restoring civilian rule.
Mali underwent coups in August 2020 and May 2021, creating a political crisis that coincides with an ongoing security crisis.
Jihadists joined a regional insurgency in northern Mali in 2012 and then extended their campaign to the center of the country and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of civilians have died, more than two million have fled their homes, and economic damage to countries that are among the poorest in the world has been severe.