AU-EU set for military intervention in Mali

The African Union (AU) and its European counterpart, the EU, have in principle agreed on a joint-planning military intervention to oust rebels in northern Mali at a high-level meeting in Paris last week. The meeting, which was also attended by the West African regional grouping ECOWAS as well as U.S. State Department and Defence representatives, was a follow-up to UN Security Council’s approval of Resolution 2071 which authorizes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to work with regional powers in order to come up with “detailed and actionable recommendations” involving the deployment of an international military force in Mali.

African Union forces

Keeping in line with the UN Resolution which urges the leadership in Bamako to “engage, as soon as possible, in a credible negotiation process” with “Malian rebel groups”, the Paris meeting appointed Algeria (which had previously opposed military intervention) and Burkina Faso (for its close ties with the leaders of the rebels) to pursue the political option of persuading northern rebels to engage in a dialogue with the Malian government.

Speaking to ministers at the opening of the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) in Addis Ababa last Wednesday in which Mali’s suspension from the union was lifted, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the AU Commission said “we are working … to finalize the joint planning for the early deployment of an African-led international military force to help Mali recover the occupied territories in the North.” The AU chief however maintained that a negotiated settlement is still an open option for “Malian rebel groups willing to negotiate.”

Further details of EU’s military commitment to help the Malian government and ECOWAS (which is expected to lead the mission with some 3,500 troops) recapture the rebel-held north are not due for discussion until November 19 when EU foreign ministers are expected to meet on the issue. However there is a growing consensus among member states for an intervention of some sort on a crisis which many believe has the potentials of destabilizing Europe if left unattended to; such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who have expressed concerns over the region becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

The U.S., which is also expressing similar concerns over the worsening situation in northern Mali, is calling for something to be done in order to “resolve this challenge” posed by Al-Qaida-linked rebels. “It’s very important that this effort” of military intervention “is well-organised, well-resourced and well-planned – and of course, Africans are going to be the leaders of this effort,” assisted by “friends of Mali like France and the United States,” Michael Pelletier, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told reporters.

On executions of any such EU military support, Gen. Patrick de Rousiers of the French Defence Ministry said “for all this part – which could go very quickly – it could take two days, three days, as it could take six months.” But Britain’s special representative to the Sahel region Stephen O’Brien is certain that any military intervention in Mali is not likely until sometime in the new year.

Whatever the outcome of the EU foreign ministers’ meeting next month, AU’s Dlamini-Zuma seems pleased with the progress made so far. “I think around Mali, there’s unity of purpose, there’s unity of ideas.” She said. “So I think so far, so good.”

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