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Mixed reaction to proposal to deploy UN peace keepers in Mali

During a meeting between the French President Francois Hollande and the U.S. vice-president Joe Biden at the Elysee on February 4, France and the U.S. agreed on the need to quickly send a UN peace keeping force to Mali.

The proposal has received mixed reactions from the national authority and the political leaders as well as from the civil society actors.

On Monday, Mali's Defence Minister Yamoussa Camara said that "the deployment of the UN peace keepers in Mali was not planned initially, because the exact strength of the islamists had not been known."

"I am not revealing any secret, but I have realized that even with the deployment of all promised troops from the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), despite their goodwill, we would not have rapidly achieved our objective without the involvement of a powerful country like France," the minister added.

Camara reiterated that he was not entirely opposed to the idea of deploying a UN peace keeping mission in Mali because what will happen is just the change of name of the troops currently operating under the auspices of the International Support Mission for Mali (MISMA).

He also pointed out the need to reinforce the aerial and intelligence gathering capacity of the Malian and MISMA forces.

The same position was shared by Mali's ex-foreign minister and chairman of PARENA party, Tiebile Drame, who is an expert on security issues in the Sahel region.

While speaking to Xinhua in an interview, Drame noted that he "totally supports the idea of deploying a UN peace keeping mission to Mali after the Franco-African coalition ends its mission of dismantling the logistical bases and weapons of the islamists."

"Given the gravity of the situation, only funding from the regular UN budget and its logistical support will help the country to overcome the instability that it will be confronted with in the near future," the former minister said.

He added that transforming the current MISMA troops into a UN peace keeping force will immediately ensure proper logistical support and a more coherent coordination between different African contingents in the country.

Drame noted further that the objective of the UN force will not be to stand between the liberation forces and the islamists, but it will be deployed to fight against rebels.

He equally proposed that it's the current coalition of African forces that should change their helmets and have the UN's blue helmets. This, he said, will help to reinforce the war against the terrorists.

"The UN mission will comprise several departments, such as the department for electoral assistance and one for monitoring the respect for human rights. These are things which are part of the transition roadmap," Drame concluded.

However, despite acknowledging the need to intensify efforts that are meant to increase funding for the MISMA forces, Mali's ex- prime minister Soumana Sako and his colleagues who were meeting under the auspices of a grouping dubbed ADPS, "opposed any suggestion to transform the current MISMA force to a peace keeping force under the political and military control of the UN."

While justifying its position in a statement sent to Xinhua on Tuesday, the Alliance of Patriotic Democrats for Ending the Crisis (ADPS) noted that "the UN had demonstrated its inability to understand the real nature of the problem in Northern Mali and find an appropriate solution to it."

The same group pointed fingers at the "UN experience in peace keeping matters on the African continent, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the outcome has been catastrophic."

Sako and his colleagues reminded the Malian government and all of Mali's bilateral and multilateral partners that the political and military control of the operations should remain under the national authorities.

"A UN peace keeping force like the UN Mission for Stabilization of Congo (MONUSCO) will spend so much resources, yet just a fraction of those resources could fund sustainable development projects for the benefit of all communities in Northern Mali," Sako said in the statement.

Just like the officials of ADPS, other Malians, especially members of parliament and historians have questioned the motive behind the deployment of a UN peace keeping force.

So far, Mali's Interim President who is also the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Dioncounda Traore, has not yet spoken about the proposal to deploy such a mission to his country.

[Source: Xinhua, Bamako, 14Feb13]

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