Mali protesters demand exit of UN peacekeeping mission

Thousands demonstrate in Bamako demanding an end to a peacekeeping mission they say has not brought peace.

Several thousand protesters gathered in the country’s capital, Bamako, on Thursday demanding an end to a United Nations peacekeeping mission they say has failed to bring peace.

Protesters held signs calling for the UN mission known as MUNISMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) to leave the country.

The M5-RFP, the party of the transitional prime minister Choguel Maiga and civil society organizations supporting the transitional government, organized the meeting in the arena Palais des Sports.

“It is an evil force that must leave our country. It’s been no use; failed to deliver. Give us a few weeks and we will drive them out of the country,” protester Abdoulaye Diarra told Al Jazeera.

Since 2013, thousands of people have been killed in attacks by armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

MINUSMA was established that year to support foreign and local forces fighting against the armed groups. With more than 14,000 troops on the ground, the UN mission in Mali is the largest, most expensive and deadliest operation in the organization’s history.

More than 300 UN peacekeepers have also been killed.

Malians initially celebrated the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force, but now say that UN soldiers are the problem and not the solution. They accuse it of failing to protect the population and to intervene in massacres near UN compounds.

Outside the capital, in the northern and central parts of the country where government is sparse, millions of Malians still depend on the UN mission for security.

But in recent months there have been repeated frictions between the Malian military government and the mission, in part because Mali’s military has sought help from the Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary company.

The UN’s independent human rights investigators accuse them of indiscriminate killings and torture, in what rights groups describe as possible evidence of war crimes.

At Thursday’s protest, protesters waved Russian flags.

“MINUSMA has to leave Mali because the Malian people and the Malian government have been waiting for MINUSMA results for 10 years,” said Mohammed Kassoum Djiré, president of the Sentinelles Mali-Kura organization.

“Instead of MINUSMA working with the authorities, with the Malian people, MINUSMA is working to discredit our army, which is our backbone and the symbol of our national unity,” he said.

Djire referred to a UN report accusing the Malian army and its Russian auxiliaries of the execution of more than 500 civilians in the village of Moura in the center of the country in an operation carried out in March 2022.

“Everyone knows that Moura was a haven for terrorists,” he said.

Overall, Europe’s relations with Mali have deteriorated since a military coup in 2020 and the government has subsequently invited fighters from the Wagner Group to support its fight against rebels.

This prompted France to withdraw its troops from Mali in 2022, after having been there for almost ten years.

Mali’s government has previously said Russian forces in the West African country are not mercenaries, but trainers who help local troops with equipment bought in Moscow.

In an earlier interview with Al Jazeera, Maiga said the UN mission had been ineffective.

“The international community became involved with Mali after the adoption of a UN resolution in 2013,” he said. “Malians understood it was an end to the war, but as soon as the peace agreement was signed, the resolution was changed to say that they were not here to end the war, but to protect the peace; but there is no peace,” said Maiga.