U.S.: Mali’s top priority must be holding fair elections

BAMAKO, MALI - SEPTEMBER 22: Malian police forces secure the area during the National Day military parade on September 22, 2018 in Bamako, Mali. (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images)
Representatives of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, left of table, including Col. Assimi Goita, center of row, who has declared himself the group’s leader, meet with a high-level delegation from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, right of table, at the Ministry of Defense in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Top West African officials are arriving in Mali’s capital following a coup in the nation this week to meet with the junta leaders and the deposed president in efforts to negotiate a return to civilian rule. (AP Photo)

The top priority for Mali’s interim government must be holding free and fair elections by the end of the 18-month transition period following last August’s military coup that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations said Tuesday.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield strongly encouraged Malian authorities “to issue a finalized timeline confirming dates for the electoral process,” and said the voting must be administered “by competent and impartial election authorities using transparent processes.” She urged the authorities to use the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali’s “election support capacities.”

Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council that January’s dissolution of the military junta that carried out the coup was “an important step toward a peaceful and democratic transition.”

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 jihadists from power in 2013. A peace agreement was signed in 2015 by three parties — the government, a coalition of groups who seek autonomy in northern Mali, and a pro-government militia.

But 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.

Thomas-Greenfield further urged the transitional government to step up efforts “to make tangible and significant progress” in implementing the 2015 peace agreement. She echoed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal to the parties not to reopen the accord, saying that would “impede implementation.”

Many council ambassadors welcomed the first-ever meetings of the committee monitoring the peace agreement in northern and southern Mali as an important step to advancing the accord’s implementation.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said the attack on a peacekeeping base in northern Mali’s Kidal region last week that killed four peacekeepers and wounded at least 34 was a reminder of the challenges facing the country and the broader Sahel region.

Lacroix said the battle also illustrated the bravery and determination of the Chadian peacekeepers, whose “heroic defense” inflicted serious casualties among the attackers. At least 23 attackers were reported killed.