U.N. mission still committed to Mali despite human rights chief expulsion

FILE PHOTO: A U.N. vehicle patrols the streets in Bamako, Mali July, 29 2018. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

BAMAKO (Reuters) - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali on Monday said it remained committed to its mandate despite the expulsion of the head of its human rights division over the weekend.

Mali's military government on Sunday declared Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali persona non grata and gave him 48 hours to leave the country.

It accused Andali of being biased in his choice of civil society witnesses for U.N. Security Council briefings on Mali, the most recent of which was held on Jan. 27.

The mission, known as MINUSMA, responded on Monday saying it had been informed by Malian authorities and "deeply" regretted their decision to expel Andali.

"MINUSMA reaffirms its commitment to continue to work impartially to implement its mandate to promote and protect human rights," it said in a statement.

It added that it remained committed to an "open and transparent collaboration with the Malian authorities".

MINUSMA was set up in 2013 to help stabilize the West African country after a Tuareg rebellion the previous year that gave rise to a rampant jihadist insurgency.

Local and foreign troops have been unable to quash the militants, now linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

They have spread across the Sahel and down to coastal West African countries over the past decade, killing thousands and displacing over 2 million people in the process.

Frustrations over growing insecurity have spurred a flurry of military coups over the past three years, including two in Mali in 2020 and 2021.

The junta has since come under pressure for alleged human rights violations and abuses reportedly perpetrated by Malian armed forces in partnership with the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group in Mali.

That collaboration has contributed to souring relations with Western powers and prompted several countries including France, which had extensive military operations in the country, to withdraw troops.

On Jan. 31, U.N. experts called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces and the Wagner Group.

The government has pushed back against some of the U.N. allegations and emphasised the authorities' commitment to human rights.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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