UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to beef up the mandate of the more than 16,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali to help tackle escalating violence and re-establish government authority in the central part of the troubled West African nation.
The council's resolution reaffirmed that the primary mission of the U.N. mission remains to support implementation of a 2015 peace deal. It expressed "a significant sense of impatience with parties over the persistent delays in the full implementation of key provisions of the agreement" and reiterated the threat of sanctions against spoilers.
The resolution for the first time added a "second strategic priority" for the mission — to facilitate implementation of "a comprehensive politically-led Malian strategy to protect civilians, reduce intercommunal violence, and re-establish state authority, state presence and basic social services in central Mali."
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president of a decade. The power vacuum that was created ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadis from power in 2013.
Insurgents remain active in the region and the West African nation is under threat from a number of extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State organization. The extremists have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA, which was established in 2013, has become the United Nations' deadliest.
The French-drafted resolution expresses deep concern at MINUSMA's heavy losses and calls for improved performance by its troops and police, better pre-deployment training, and periodic reviews of safety and security measures. It extends the mission's mandate until June 30, 2020.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said after the vote that the resolution "sends a firm message over the need for urgent progress in implementing the peace agreement" and spells out five measures the council wants fulfilled in the next year.
He said France is now seeking to sanction five individuals "responsible for obstructions following the failure to achieve the priority objectives defined by the council" to implement the 2015 peace agreement in its resolution in June 2018.
In central Mali, Delattre said, the Security Council has made clear that Mali's government needs a strategy to end the violence and ensure the return of state authority. And the resolution encourages MINUSMA to strengthen its action in the region which is now elevated to a second strategic priority.
The three African nations in the council — Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and South African — stressed that MINUSMA is essential to Mali's stability "and indeed the entire Sahel region."
They said in a joint statement that "the political process under way carried out by the new national union government is a step in the right direction." But they also said that Malian parties must do more on the reform and redeployment of the country's security forces and in developing the north.
U.S. political coordinator Rodney Hunter called MINUSMA, which has a budget of over $1 billion a year, "a peacekeeping mission in a counterterrorism environment."
He said that after another year of "insufficient progress" in implementing the 2015 peace agreement and worsening insecurity in central Mali a new mandate was needed "to respond to escalating violence and hold the signatory parties accountable."
Central Mali is now "the most dangerous region in the country," Hunter said. "The number of attacks, human rights violations and abuses and civilians killed has reached a level not seen in Mali since 2012."
He said the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Mali "is on the verge" of adding more individuals to its sanctions blacklist.
Mali's U.N. Ambassador Issa Konfourou assured the council the government "will tirelessly continue to implement the agreement." He said it is working on "a new roadmap" in line with the benchmarks in the resolution and is also in the process of organizing a political dialogue.