Mali's top diplomat demands UN Peacekeepers leave immediately

U.N. peacekeepers stand guard in the northern town of Kouroume, Mali, May 13, 2015. [Reuters]

Mali's top diplomat demanded Friday that U.N. peacekeepers who have been in this West African country grappling with an Islamic insurgency for more than a decade leave immediately, claiming they had failed in their mission.

Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop made the request in a speech to the United Nations Security Council. He said the U.N. mission had not achieved its objectives and was sowing distrust among the people.

Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali's northern cities the following year, with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies.

The U.N. peacekeepers - a contingent of more than 15,000 - came a few months later in what has become one of the most dangerous U.N. missions in the world. At least 170 peacekeepers have been killed in the country since 2013, according to the U.N.

"The Malian government asks for the withdrawal without delay" of the peacekeepers, Diop said in his speech at the council. He said the mission has not "been able to adequately respond to the security situation in Mali" and that its "future outlook doesn't seem to respond to the security needs" of the Malians.

Mali has been ruled by a military junta following two coups, starting in 2020, led by Col. Assimi Goita, who now runs the country.

Since Goita seized power, relations with the international community have become tense - in part also because the junta brought in mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group, who are engaged in Moscow's war on Ukraine.

In recent months, Mali's government has constrained the peacekeepers' ability to operate, and countries such as Benin, Germany, Sweden, Ivory Coast and the United Kingdom have announced troop withdrawals.

Diop's demand came as the Security Council began discussing the mission's mandate, which expires June 30.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis told Friday's meeting that Washington was "especially frustrated by Mali's ongoing restrictions" against the freedom of movement and access for the peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA.

Conflict analysts see Mali's demand as worrying.

"It's a grim development," said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory, which provides intelligence analysis. Alkhouri said the demand appears to be a result of the junta's "aspirations to keep a tight grip on power, as well as a response to increasing public pressure after multiple protests."

But many Malians say the peacekeepers have brought no stability.

"What I can see is that despite the presence of the [U.N.], we don't have peace," Mohamed Sissoko, a resident of the capital, Bamako, told The Associated Press.

The spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Mali, Fatoumata Kaba, said the U.N. would respond to the request but couldn't immediately comment.

On Sunday, the African nation is to hold a long-awaited referendum on a new constitution as a path to elections, scheduled for February next year.