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Mali terrorism is 'a wake-up call'

Recent terrorist attacks are an important "wake-up call" highlighting the challenge of restoring security to Mali, the senior UN envoy to the country said.

Albert Koenders told the UN Security Council yesterday that the successful presidential election this summer and progress in recent months have opened up new prospects for Mali's recovery and longer-term future.

But the recent attacks demonstrate the need to address the root causes of the country's near-collapse last year along with its serious humanitarian needs and shocking malnutrition levels, he warned.

He pointed to a suicide attack by extremist elements in Timbuktu on September 28, and the shelling of Gao on October 7 by other extremists.

And Mr Koenders noted the tense situation in the northern city of Kidal, where volleys of gunfire erupted in late September, and tensions within Mali's armed forces, where some 30 disgruntled soldiers kidnapped two officers in the garrison town of Kati on October 1.

Mali fell into turmoil after a March 2012 coup created a security vacuum that allowed secular Tuareg rebels to take over half of the country's north as a new homeland.

Months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists, many linked to al Qaida. When the Islamists started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive in January to oust them, but remnants of the rebels remain.

Mali's minister for national reconciliation and development of the north, Cheick Oumar Diarrah, echoed Mr Koenders, saying the return of armed groups, terrorists and jihadists represent a threat to stability, peace and security in the north.

He said the surge of terrorist activity in recent weeks requires the deployment of the Malian army throughout the country and greater support from the new UN force.

He also called for a renewed commitment by the international community to combat terrorism and trans-border crime.

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud called Mali's turnaround "a remarkable success story" and said the recent attacks were unorganised and "quite amateurish".

But he agreed with Mr Koender that they are "a wake-up call" and stressed that "we must be vigilant".

France has more than 3,000 troops in Mali and President Francois Hollande said last month that a drawdown to 1,000 troops would be delayed slightly from the end of the year to the end of January 2014.

A new UN peacekeeping force known as MINUSMA took over from a 6,000-member African-led mission in Mali on July 1 with an authorised strength of 11,200 military personnel and a mandate to help restore democracy and stabilise the northern half of the country.

In a report to the Security Council yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that as of September 15, MINUSMA's troop strength stood at just over 5,200 following the withdrawal of an infantry battalion, which was from Nigeria. MINUSMA also lost about 150 Chadian troops last month.

He said the force needs two infantry battalions, an airfield engineering company to repair several airstrips in the north, and a special forces company and information unit to reach its authorised strength.

It also needs utility and armed military helicopters, which are critical for MINUSMA's operations, he said.

AP

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