Talks, not soldiers, needed in Mali – UN


The United Nations’ top humanitarian official in Mali urged more engagement with armed groups including jihadists, more aid and development funding, saying extra troops would not help stabilise the country.

Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate across northern and central Mali despite efforts to drive them back. More than 200 000 people are displaced and many communities have no local government or means of defence.

Former colonial power France pledged another 600 soldiers to the 4 500 it has tackling armed groups in the Sahel or with a 14 000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.

Ute Kollies, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Mali, told journalists in Geneva the country was at a watershed and complained of a lack of international support.

Funds received by OCHA in Mali last year amounted to just five percent of the $3 billion spent by armies.

“I do not believe more military would help,” Kollies said. “What we need is more engagement on the political front.”

She mentioned a decision by the Malian government to send emissaries to representatives of Islamist militant groups in central Mali and said contacts should not be confined to a stumbling peace process.

“We need different pressure on the different sides,” she said.

OCHA says about 4,3 million people need humanitarian assistance in Mali, 1,1 million more than last year. Risks for aid workers are growing and Kollies said access to some areas was “extremely difficult”.

OCHA was in regular contact with armed groups in areas where the state was absent and provided some with training in “humanitarian principles and mandate” to ensure civilians and aid workers were protected.