Mauritanian El-Ghassim Wane heads Minusma, the United Nations mission in Mali. His word is rare in the media, he granted this interview to RFI in a context of tensions with the Malian authorities. The arrest in Bamako of 49 Ivorian soldiers, presented by the Malian transitional authorities as mercenaries when they came within a UN framework, but with an administrative situation that remains unclear, has sparked very strong tensions between Bamako and Abidjan – mediation attempts are also underway – but also between Bamako and Minusma, which has been forced to review the rules for authorizing its aerial rotations. They finally resumed on Monday after being suspended for more than a month by Bamako. The case of these 49 Ivorian soldiers, the resumption of UN flights, but also the threats that could weigh on the future of Minusma in Mali: El-Ghassim Wane, head of Minusma, answers questions from RFI.
The Malian transitional authorities had suspended the rotations of military personnel from Minusma a month ago. In the meantime, the conditions for authorizing these rotations have been discussed again with the Malian government and the shifts were finally able to resume on Monday. Currently, how many men are awaiting departure or arrival?
Indeed, there was a suspension of the rotations of our contingents and we had a meeting with the Malian authorities on 1er of this month, during which we agreed on the terms and conditions for resuming the rotations of our contingents. These shifts have begun, they will continue for a period of four weeks and will concern 3,500 personnel entering and leaving, so 7,000 in total. It is an extremely complex operation which obviously involves the Malian authorities and Minusma here, but also our headquarters in New York and the troop-contributing countries, an operation which requires extremely close coordination. So far everything is going well, there is no reason why things should not continue on the same path, and that the 7,000 personnel who are affected by this operation can be deployed and redeployed for some in their country origin, within the stipulated time.
During this forced break, has the work of the Minusma been affected?
No, the work obviously continued, but it is obvious that a delay in the reliefs necessarily has an impact on the morale of the troops, necessarily has an impact on operational efficiency. That said, the work has continued and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our uniformed personnel for the commitment they have shown throughout their deployment here in Mali.
The new protocol for these rotations, is it more restrictive, penalizing for the Minusma?
No, I think it was more a question of clarifying the modalities so that these shifts take place in a much more harmonious way. Essentially, it is a question for all the countries which must carry out reliefs to do so through the Minusma, and it is a question for us of having as main point of entry the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dependent for that to ensure coordination between the various Malian structures concerned. The information we provide is completely standard information, which we were already providing, but which we are now going to present in a much more global way through a single structure, and I welcome the willingness of the Malian authorities, which has allowed us to reach an agreement and ensure the resumption of the shifts.
The French Barkhane force has just completed its withdrawal after being pushed out by the Malian transitional authorities. In recent months, it is the Minusma which has seen its activities hampered, protocols have been modified, your spokesperson has been expelled, your human rights investigators no longer have access to certain areas: do not be afraid not that Bamako is now trying to put the Minusma out, in turn?
As you know, the mission’s mandate was renewed at the end of June, and the Malian authorities made it clear that they wanted the Minsuma to stay. We are working, I think, in a spirit of cooperation with the Malian authorities, but obviously, in the case of a mission with such a large number of personnel and operating under the security conditions that you are familiar with, it is obvious that difficulties may arise to pose. But the important thing is that when difficulties arise, we work together with the Malian authorities to find solutions.
But Germany has already suspended most of its military activities within the Minusma last week, others could follow? Do you dread it?
First of all, the countries contributing troops and police personnel remain committed, I think this is an extremely important element. There was this difficulty that we experienced with regard to the relief of the German contingent, but I can assure you that these difficulties are in the process of being overcome, and that they were in fact much more a matter of a necessary adaptation to the new rules that have been agreed with the Malian authorities, than anything else, and so we are working in a good spirit with both the Germans and the Malians to ensure the proper functioning of the force.
The departure of the Minusma is increasingly requested by civil society organizations, by opinion leaders, a bit like it was the case for Barkhane…
In a country of 20 million inhabitants, not all opinions are uniform, necessarily, there are critics, but I can assure you of one thing: I go very frequently inside Mali, I interacted frequently with the Malian authorities, all my interlocutors are in favor of maintaining the Minusma. That said, we obviously remain attentive, including to those who criticize our action.
Your relations with the transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goita, how would you describe them? Do you chat, do you see each other regularly?
I would say that we have good relations with the Malian authorities, we have access to them when we wish, obviously including the President of the transition, but we also work a lot with the members of the government who deal with specific files and who are our primary interlocutors, and I would like to thank them for their availability.
On the case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested on July 10 in Bamako and charged with “ breach of state security “: the United Nations first confirmed that they had arrived in Mali in support of Minusma, with NSE status, before backtracking for, it seems, administrative malfunctions. Can you enlighten us on the real status of these 49 soldiers and on their arrival in Mali?
There are sustained efforts being made at the regional level, which are also supported by a number of international actors who aim to resolve this issue, and the wish of all is that this settlement can be found as soon as possible. possible, and I think that’s what everyone is working towards.
That’s on the ongoing mediations, to avoid escalation between Bamako and Abidjan, but on the status of these soldiers, how to understand the U-turn of the United Nations?
Our role here is to contribute as best we can to the search for a solution, and that is the wish of the countries concerned, of all those involved in this affair, the wish to find a solution, and that is to this that everyone must work.
According to several sources, Bamako would ask for an apology from Abidjan, or even the extradition of certain political figures currently in Côte d’Ivoire, and targeted by arrest warrants issued by the Malian justice?
I repeat: the wish of all is to see the current efforts succeed.
After almost ten months of stalemate, the Malian transitional government and the armed groups in the North who signed the 2015 Peace Agreement resumed their joint work at the beginning of the month: is the application of the Peace Agreement finally revived?
I believe. It was a very good meeting, there was an agreement on quotas for the integration of ex-combatants from the signatory movements into the structures of the Malian State, including the defense and security forces, an agreement on institutional reforms that are not related to the revision of the Constitution, and a commitment of the government to ensure the management of institutional reforms that require a constitutional revision within the framework of the elaboration of the new Constitution. There was also an agreement on the setting up of an ad hoc commission in charge of the case-by-case management of the situation of the executives of the signatory movements. Now, we will have to ensure that this momentum is maintained, that is what we are all working towards, and a meeting of the monitoring committee for the agreement is scheduled for the end of this month, precisely to help preserve this momentum and encourage the parties to consolidate the results they have achieved.