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2012-11-23

UN Sahel envoy seeks Mali solution

By Siham Ali in Rabat and Walid Ramzi in Algiers for Magharebia – 23/11/12

United Nations Sahel envoy Romano Prodi spoke in Rabat on Tuesday (November 20th) about the need to promote peace in Mali before turning to a military solution.

"If we have to resort to military intervention to resolve the crisis in Mali, then we shall, but only as a last resort," the former Italian premier said.

"Wars have negative and tragic repercussions at both the socioeconomic and military level. Any military intervention must be properly prepared if it is to have any credibility," Prodi pointed out during a press briefing at the foreign ministry in Rabat on November 20th.

The high-ranking UN official, who met with Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and Foreign Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani, committed himself to exploring all possible avenues to prevent war and allow peace to prevail in Mali through dialogue.

Prodi stated that, according to experts, military action in Northern Mali would not be possible before September 2013.

The UN official said that the international community needs to take action to promote economic development in the region and to give the people of Mali the means to make a living. "Without development, it will not be possible to resolve the crisis in Mali. So we need to strengthen international solidarity," he said.

At present, there are more than 450,000 refugees who fled the conflict in northern Mali, according to the UN.

Morocco's chief diplomat was keen to point out that the kingdom was not in favour of military action, and that a political solution would be preferable. He said that Morocco supports the efforts being made by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for an internal solution, both in Bamako, through dialogue between the parties concerned, and in the north.

"The Kingdom of Morocco wishes to reiterate its commitment to preserving Mali's territorial integrity, stability and unity, and its support for the efforts being made regionally and internationally to resolve this difficult conflict," El Othmani said.

He also stressed Morocco's commitment to the continuing provision of humanitarian and logistical assistance for Mali's development. Rabat has called for a global strategy to be developed, leading to a political solution through unified central government and stronger institutions in Mali.

Over the past two weeks, Prodi has visited the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, as well as Egypt, Algeria and France to discuss the situation in the Sahel.

Prodi's talks in Rabat came on the heels of a November 9th visit to Algiers, where again Mali was the focus of discussions.

The UN envoy met Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika along with Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci and Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel.

In a press statement following the meeting, Prodi said that all possible efforts would be made to re-establish peace in northern Mali and avoid military intervention that would have unknown consequences for the Sahel. He said that work would primarily focus on security to enable Mali to preserve its territorial integrity.

"We have to work on the short run, but we also have to think about developing the Sahel in the long run and about how to involve the international community in this endeavour," the UN envoy said.

"I'm here to look for peace, and we have to work together with a strong will to establish peace in the region," he said, adding that "if there must be a military intervention, it will be the last option."

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