Delicate transition in Mali, end of Operation Barkhane, links with Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic… The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations delivers his analysis of these crises.

While the UN peacekeepers are engaged in both Mali and the Central African Republic, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Deputy Secretary General for UN Peace Operations, has agreed to answer Jeune Afrique’s questions on the crises these countries are going through. . Increase in violence in the Sahel, seizure of power by the military in Bamako, people’s mistrust of the security forces, or even competition from Russian mercenaries on the continent … we met him during his visit to Paris.

Jeune Afrique: In a note, Minusma points out that insecurity has sharply increased in northern and central Mali. Given the importance of the security system deployed, how do you explain this upsurge in violence?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix: In addition to the jihadist attacks, we are facing clashes between the Fulani militias, the Katiba Macina or even the Dogons in central Mali. The weakening of the presence of the state, climate change and the lack of resources partly explain this violence. To deal with it, the most effective solution is not military but political. Of course, we must relaunch the security component of the 2015 peace agreement by promoting the deployment of the reconstituted army, but we must also promote the return of the administration in all regions of the country.

Minusma peacekeepers remain engaged on the ground to secure areas they can. But we need a stronger commitment from the Malian transitional authorities.

Is this really the right time to withdraw troops, as France is going to do, especially in Tessalit, Timbuktu or even Mopti?

The “Barkhane otherwise” will inevitably have an impact for us, especially in the areas where we operate together. Currently, we are working in concert with the French authorities so that the conditions of this new articulation are clarified. That said, the French force is reorganizing itself, but it is not leaving. And Paris is not the only partner in the region, we are also working with the European force Takuba and the G5 Sahel countries.

After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, a consequence of the withdrawal of American soldiers, shouldn’t France reverse its decision?

I have no advice for the French authorities. What is needed now is for the G5 Sahel to gain momentum, with greater financial resources. The security response will come above all from the countries of the region.

This is necessary. The UN Secretary General has therefore proposed an increase in the number of members of the Security Council. Discussions are ongoing …

Since your last visit to Bamako last January, during which you met Bah N’Daw and Moctar Ouane, the soldiers have overthrew the authorities. It was the second coup in less than a year. Are you worried?

Presidential and legislative elections are due in five months, which should restore stability. The government must honor this commitment.

It is possible, but the process must move forward. ECOWAS and the African Union are working on it. Insecurity is rampant, there is an emergency. It is essential that this transition leads quickly to these elections.

During his visit to Algiers, Abdoulaye Diop, the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not close the door to a dialogue with “radical groups”. Are you in favor of a dialogue with the jihadists?

This is for the Malian authorities to decide. But there are elements to take into account: are the jihadists ready for dialogue? What would be the goal? If we do not have a minimum of answers to these questions, it is difficult to undertake this type of initiative.

Visiting Mali at the end of August, Ramtane Lamamra, Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that he wanted to influence the course of events in the sub-region more. Can Algeria take on this role?

Algeria has an important role to play in the region and Minister Lamrama has intimate knowledge of the matter. He wants to give new impetus to the 2015 peace agreement. This is a step in the right direction.

This peace agreement deeply divides the Malian population and its implementation is slow. Should we “reread” it, as some people ask?

This is not for the United Nations to judge. This agreement was signed by the Malians and other partners in the sub-region. If there is a proofreading, it must be done with all the signatory actors and in a spirit of dialogue. In addition, all partners must maintain and strengthen their commitment. They have an important role to play in the peace process in the region. The United Nations and Minusma will always be ready to help.

The Minusma faces the mistrust of part of the population, as we observed at the end of May in Aghelhok. Is it due to the actions of some of his men? One of your own reports points to the responsibility of international forces in 31 blunders …

We report all allegations of human rights violations in the most impartial and comprehensive manner, even when our men are involved. We have a zero tolerance policy in this area. In Aguelhok, where people have called for the relocation of the peacekeepers, we have shown understanding. But do these demonstrators represent the entire population? I do not believe that. I visited this city and spent a lot of time with its representatives. Many of them told us: “If you go, we go with you”. Since this sit-in, Minusma has engaged in dialogue with the population. Tensions and pressure have eased.

In the Central African Republic, the army appears to be working with Russian mercenaries linked to the Wagner company. Did La Minusca collaborate with these men on the ground?

No, there was no cooperation between Minusca and the mercenaries. We have established coordination between the Central African armed forces (Faca) and bilateral elements, namely the Rwandans and the Russians, which sometimes include unidentified individuals. The aim was to help identify people: know who does what, when and how, so that our peacekeepers and civilian personnel are not inadvertently shot at. When you have several elements in the same field of confrontation, it is imperative, even essential, that each one be able to know where the other is.

Has this coordination always been transparent? No. We have made this known on several occasions to the Central African authorities, since they are responsible for the proper conduct of this type of coordination on their territory. La Minusca has an obligation to uphold respect for international humanitarian law and human rights. The problem arises when these are flouted.

La Minusca is one of the guarantors of the peace agreements signed in February 2019, which have been violated on several occasions. Should its mandate be changed to make it more offensive?

We all know the deal was broken. Nonetheless, we have a role in this agreement, we support it and believe it remains relevant. It must be revitalized by creating a real commitment with those who are ready for dialogue. There are armed groups that are signatories to the agreement that did not resort to arms during and after the elections. There’s no reason to stop arguing with them. Politically, it is important that the authorities establish an inclusive and open dialogue with the opposition forces.

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