Three UN peackeepers killed in Mali, despite 'cautious optimism' about elections

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Three United Nations peacekeepers died and six were wounded early Thursday in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the northern Timbuktu region of Mali. On Wednesday the United Nation’s top official in Mali had expressed cautious optimism that a new roadmap would lead to elections in March 2022.

Cote d’Ivoire’s army chief of staff, General Lassina Doumbia, confirmed that the three dead peacekeepers were Ivorian.

The attack occurred during a security operation on the road linking the central town of Douentza to the city of Timbuktu further north, about 20 kilometres north of the town of Bamabara-Maoude. The peacekeepers’ vehicle struck an improvised explosive device and then came under attack by unidentified gunmen who fled the scene.

“At a time when all efforts are being made to bring Mali out of the rut, I deeply deplore the upsurge in these attacks against national and international forces, as well as civilian populations,” said UN special envoy Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who heads the UN mission in Mali, known as Minusma.

The UN peacekeeping mission has been in Mali since 2013 after Islamic extremists, mostly ethnic Tuargeg separatists, took control of major towns in the north. A French-led military operation pushed them out, but rebels have since regrouped in rural areas and expanded their reach.

The 12,000-strong peacekeeping force is a frequent target, and over 230 soldiers have died since the start of the mission.

In August, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted from power by a military junta. Under international pressure, the junta appointed a civilian-led government to lead the country through an 18-month transition to new elections.

At UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday devoted to peace efforts in Mali, Annadif said that a newly-revised roadmap to elections “is consensus-based and quite exhaustive,” and that “we must be cautiously optimistic.”

He cautioned that success will be based on completing political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms and support from all political actors.

Mali’s UN ambassador, Issa Konfourou, told the council, the stabilization process "is at a critical point.”

“Its success depends first and foremost on the sacred union of all strata in Mali society to save our country and... also on the quality of international support in terms of finding a solution to the crisis,” he said.