By Bakari Guèye
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council met on Saturday (June 23rd) in Addis Ababa to study the situation in Mali.
“The AU wants to work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the rest of the international community to bring quick, fair, just and lasting solutions to Mali,” African Union (AU) Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said at the start of the meeting.
Lamamra stressed “the two-fold dimension of restoring constitutional order and preserving the territorial integrity of the Republic of Mali”.
“Mali has been officially engaged in a transitional process since the putschists agreed on April 6th to restore constitutional order following mediation by the ECOWAS led by Burkina Faso,” the commissioner said.
Beninese and African Union President Thomas Boni Yayi continues to stand by his proposal to “refer the matter to the UN Security Council to set up an African intervention force in Mali”.
“We could follow the example of Somalia, where an African force is operating with the support of the United Nations. That is one way we could go. We wouldn’t bypass ECOWAS, but none of our countries will be safe if the Islamists gain ground,” he said.
However, he noted that “not all the countries in the area (covered by the terrorist threat in the Sahel) belong to ECOWAS. There’s Algeria, Mauritania, but also Libya, who must be involved in the decisions. That falls within the remit of the African Union.”
The AU president said: “We cannot say that they are going to transform Mali, which is traditionally a democratic secular country, into an Islamic republic. Looking at the latest information available, I find it hard to distinguish between the MNLA, Ansar al-Din and AQIM. The terrorist danger is a matter for the international community.”
France has expressed optimism that the ECOWAS proposal for a regional stabilisation force could be accepted. “After a period when things stalled over the weekend, a much clearer picture is suddenly emerging,” French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said at a press briefing. “Things should lead very quickly to a decision from the [UN] Security Council, which could launch a military operation by the African Union and the ECOWAS,” he added.
Elsewhere, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talked about “the importance attached by France to the security, stability and development of this region, and most particularly Mali”.
“France is working for the much-needed mobilisation of the EU and the UN Security Council in close co-operation and support for the actions of the ECOWAS, and in response to requests from the Malian authorities,” he said.
Military intervention in Mali should be seen as a “last resort”, according to Alistair Burt, British Under Secretary of State with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa. He made the remarks June 25th in the midst of a three-day visit to Algeria.
“The United Kingdom, which favours a political resolution to the Malian crisis, supports Algerian efforts to seek a solution to the conflict,” he explained. “Power may be shared, but not territory,” said Algerian Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel.
“We are in discussions with our American, French and British partners over this issue as part of international bilateral co-operation and on-going contact at the sub-regional level through the mechanisms set up in Mauritania and Algeria as part of the fight against terrorism. As part of this, the ECOWAS representative, along with a number of African ministers, will shortly be in Algeria,” Messahel said.