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Algiers talks a key step towards lasting peace in Mali
13 August 2014

The first phase of inter-Malian talks, held from 16–24 July in Algiers, is a sign of progress in achieving peace in Mali, but it should not overshadow the many challenges ahead. The PSC is urged to support the process in the run-up to the second round from 17 August to 11 September.

Recent AU and PSC actions

Despite the lack of progress in the peace talks between Malian government and northern armed forces, as well as the sporadic fighting (including a major clash in Kidal in May 2014), Mali has not featured on the agenda of the PSC since the beginning of 2014. However, the situation in the Sahel is included in its programme of work for August.

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has responded to some of the emerging developments in the country. In a communiqué issued on 22 May following the eruption of violence between the army and rebels in Kidal, the AU High Representative to Mali and the Sahel and Head of the AU Mission for Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL), Pierre Buyoya, called for the unconditional and immediate cessation of hostilities and the return of the actors to their positions prior to the eruption of clashes on 16 May 2014. The visit the chairperson of the AU Assembly, Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz, undertook to Kidal in northern Mali on 23 May resulted in an agreement on a ceasefire; commitment to resume dialogue; the release of prisoners; the facilitation of humanitarian operations; respect for international humanitarian law; and the establishment of an international commission of inquiry, as provided for by the Ouagadougou Agreement of 18 June 2013 (which had been signed by the Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA) and the Haut Conseil pour l’unité de l’Azawad (HCUA) and acceded to by the Coordination des mouvements et fronts patriotiques de résistance (CM-FPR) and the Mouvement arabe de l’Azawad (MAA)). In communiqués released on 17 and 24 July, the AU Commission chairperson welcomed the launch and successful conclusion of the inter-Malian dialogue hosted in Algeria with the signing of a road map between the Malian government and the three northern armed groups.

Several attacks reportedly carried out by terrorist groups in northern Mali have illustrated the deteriorating security situation

A worsening security situation

Over the last few weeks, the security situation has deteriorated in some areas in northern Mali, with clashes between armed groups on 11, 13 and 20 July 2014. The 20 July clashes were between the MNLA and combatants from the MAA splinter group in Almoustarat in the Gao region. These clashes breached the commitment the parties had made under the Ouagadougou Agreement to permanently cease all hostilities. Should the Joint Commission established following the Algiers talks fail to ensure that the ceasefire is respected, clashes could intensify in the following weeks. This would delay, if not jeopardise, the chances of achieving lasting peace in Mali.

Several attacks reportedly carried out by terrorist groups in northern Mali have illustrated the deteriorating security situation. On 18 July, a rocket was fired at a military base in Tessalit where international soldiers were stationed. On 14 July, a French soldier from the

Operation Serval force was killed in a suicide attack between Gao and Kidal. Since 10 July – a few days before the start of the Algiers talks – several mines have exploded on and around the Kidal airport’s landing strip. One Cambodian peacekeeper from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was injured.

Without a deal, the many challenges faced by northern Mali cannot be resolved

Key issues facing the talks

One of the main stabilisation and peacebuilding challenges is the signing of a final, comprehensive agreement between the Malian government and the armed groups. Without a deal, the many challenges faced by northern Mali cannot be resolved. The Algiers talks are thus a crucial step.

The negotiations that were supposed to begin 60 days after the formation of the government – according to the Ouagadougou Agreement – started after an eight-month delay due to the actors’ lack of political will. The Malian authorities often presented the military solution as an alternative to political dialogue and remained unwilling to make concessions, but they have come to realise that dialogue may be the only way to reach a final settlement. The rebel movements share responsibility for the delay; the MNLA never agreed to cantonment as provided for in the Ouagadougou Agreement. The lack of coherence among and the fragmentation of the various rebel forces in northern Mali created a further challenge to the search for resolution. The ‘no war, no peace’ status quo in an environment of mistrust led to the degradation of the situation, which resulted in the violent confrontations of May 2014.

From the outset of the Algiers talks, each party clearly expressed and stood by its position. The Malian government rejected federalism, autonomy and any challenge to secularism, a position supported by the majority of the population. As for the armed groups, the HCUA–MAA–NLA alliance submitted a road map that outlined the different phases of the talks, which should, according to the document, last nine months and lead to a final agreement. However, interestingly, the alliance strongly rejected the participation of other groups – the MAA splinter group, the CPA and the CM-FPR – it deemed as being too close to the Malian government, which highlighted the existing divisions among the armed groups. The HCUA–MAA–MNLA alliance believes that the attacks carried out by these groups against it show they are on the government’s side, and as such they do not have any legitimacy to participate in the talks.

The negotiations that were supposed to begin 60 days after the formation of the government – according to the Ouagadougou Agreement – started after an eight-month delay due to the actors’ lack of political will

Armed groups in northern Mali also clash over the control of a variety of smuggled goods, the result of widespread illegal trafficking in the area.

Geo-political dynamics

AU and regional actors

Since the transition of the AU Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to MUNISMA, the AU’s engagement in the Malian situation has decreased dramatically. The AU has left much of the effort to achieve a peaceful settlement to regional actors, with its supporting role mainly channelled through the AU Mission for Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL). At the Malabo AU Summit, while expressing concern at the fighting in Kidal, the AU heads of state and government urged MISAHEL, whose objective is to contribute to the resolution of the crisis in Mali, to continue and intensify its efforts. While commending the outcome of the talks in Algeria, the AU chairperson also welcomed the decision to hold the second phase of the talks, scheduled to take place from 17 August to 11 September 2014, and urged the parties to find a negotiated and consensual solution to the current crisis.

At the regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been leading the mediation effort with the presidents of Burkina Faso and Nigeria serving as mediators. However, the mediation has been dogged by problems of coordination and lack of trust on the part of the Malian government. The role of Mauritania and Algeria, which are not part of ECOWAS, has recently gained importance. Developments illustrating this include the ceasefire that the Mauritanian president brokered in May 2014 and the inter-Malian Dialogue that Algeria is hosting and leading, which has revived the mediation. During its 45th ordinary session held in Accra (Ghana) on 10 July 2014, ECOWAS ‘welcome[d] the initiative of the Algerian Government to provide the venue for the commencement of the inter-Malian Dialogue’ and urged the parties to negotiate in good faith, respecting unity, territorial integrity and the secular nature of the Republic of Mali.

UNSC urges speedy deployment and full compliance with recent deals

MINUSMA, whose mandate includes civilian protection, stabilisation and state-building, had its authorisation renewed until 30 June 2015 by UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2164 (2014). In order to address the deteriorating security situation in the north, the UNSC has urged MINUSMA to speed up its deployment in that region while emphasising the need for continued political dialogue.

On 28 July 2014, the UNSC, while welcoming the road map adopted by the parties, called for the implementation of confidence-building measures and reiterated the need to accelerate the cantonment of armed groups. Concerned about the fragile security situation in the north, the Council called for immediate and full respect for the ceasefire agreement signed on 23 May 2014 and the 24 July 2014 Declaration of Cessation of Hostilities.

The EU and France’s key role

Other actors with significant roles include the European Union (EU) and France, Mali’s former colonial ruler. The EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali), launched in January 2013, has so far trained almost five battalions (three of which participated in the May 2014 fighting without success, casting doubt on the effectiveness of the training). It also launched the EU civilian mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali) on 15 April 2014 to provide advice to help build the capacity of the police, gendarmerie and National Guard.

On 13 July 2014, France started reorganising its military presence in the region, which consisted of an end to Operation Serval and the launch of a new operation codenamed ‘Barkhane’

France, which has tremendous political, diplomatic and military influence in the region, assumed a major role in the effort to resolve the crisis, through Operation Serval. On 13 July 2014, France started reorganising its military presence, ending Operation Serval and launching a new regional operation codenamed ‘Barkhane’, but with a permanent military base located in Gao. France and Mali also signed a defence cooperation treaty on 16 July.

Civil society dynamics

The people of northern Mali are the main victims of the crisis. The May 2014 clashes in Kidal have displaced over 14 000 people. In July 2014, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were 128 866 internally displaced people. As of 8 May 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) reported that there were roughly 140 000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.

Since the crisis broke out, Malian civil society has been actively involved in mobilising supporters. On 12 July 2014, Malian women launched the Badenya (solidarity) initiative, calling for their involvement in the peace process. On 6 June, in response to the May 2014 events in Kidal, the Forum for Civil Society Organisations, the Complexe infa plus, the Conseil national de la société civile, Alkarama, the Coordination malienne des organisations démocratiques and the Collectif pour les acteurs de la paix issued a joint declaration. They expressed their deep concern about the violence while urging the authorities to consult civil society more often to work towards resolving the crisis.

Important issues for the PSC

A major issue for the PSC is preventing the resumption of fighting or the further deterioration of the security situation in northern Mali. The other issue is facilitating the creation of conditions that will sustain the momentum of the talks in Algiers and produce a compromise solution during the second phase.

The implementation of the commitments made in various recent deals, including the cantonment of forces agreed in February 2014 and the establishment of a commission of inquiry (reaffirmed in the ceasefire deal brokered in May 2014), is another issue.

A further issue is the implementation of the AU’s Sahel strategy, which plays a role in addressing the regional dimensions of the crisis in northern Mali.

Options for the PSC

The PSC could urge MISAHEL to prioritise supporting the inter-Malian talks in accordance with the first pillar of the mission’s mandate and in cooperation with other actors, through facilitating confidence and communication, while ensuring that the conditions conducive to genuine dialogue are met and sustained, as provided for in the different agreements.

The PSC could call on all the parties to refrain from any acts that would lead to violence and to respect the ceasefire agreement, and remind them that they will be held accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Ahead of the second phase of talks, the PSC could, including through MISAHEL, urge both the government and the armed forces to come to the negotiations ready to make the necessary compromises for ensuring a successful outcome. In this regard, it could encourage the chairperson of the Commission and MISAHEL to work together with ECOWAS, the host Algeria, the UN, France and the AU to narrow down major differences in the positions of the parties.

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