Several thousand demonstrators gathered in the country’s capital of Bamako on Thursday, demanding an end to a United Nations peacekeeping mission that they say has failed to bring peace.
Demonstrators held signs calling for the UN mission known as MUNISMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) to leave the country.
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The M5-RFP, the party of the transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maiga and civil society organisations supporting the transitional military government, organised the rally held at the Palais des Sports arena.
“It’s an evil force that needs to leave our land. It’s been of no use; it has failed to deliver. Give us a few weeks and we will drive them out of the country,” demonstrator Abdoulaye Diarra told Al Jazeera.
Thousands of people have been killed in attacks by armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda since 2013.
MINUSMA was established that year to support foreign and local troops battling the armed groups. With more than 14,000 troops on the ground, the UN mission in Mali is the biggest, costliest, and deadliest operation in the organisation’s history.
More than 300 UN peacekeepers have also been killed.
Malians initially celebrated the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force, but now say UN soldiers are the problem and not the solution. They blame it for failing to protect the population and not intervening when massacres were carried out near UN compounds.
Outside the capital, in the northern and central parts of the country where government presence is sparse, millions of Malians are still dependent on the UN mission for security.
But in recent months, there have been repeated instances of friction between the Malian military government and the mission, partly because Mali’s military has sought help from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary firm.
The UN’s independent human rights investigators accuse them of arbitrary killings and torture, in what rights groups describe as possible evidence of war crimes.
At Thursday’s protest, demonstrators waved Russian flags.
“MINUSMA must leave Mali because the Malian people, the Malian government have been waiting for results from MINUSMA for 10 years,” Mohammed Kassoum Djiré, president of the organisation Sentinelles Mali-Kura said.
“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 was referring to a UN report accusing the Malian army and its Russian auxiliaries of executing more than 500 civilians in Moura village in the centre of the country during an operation carried out in March 2022.
“Everyone knows that Moura was a sanctuary for terrorists,” he said.
In general, Europe’s relations with Mali have deteriorated since a military coup in 2020 and the government subsequently invited fighters from the Wagner Group to support its fight against rebels.
That prompted France to withdraw its troops from Mali in 2022 after almost a decade there.
The Mali government has previously said Russian forces in the West African country are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Moscow.
In an earlier interview with Al Jazeera, Maiga said the UN mission had been ineffective.
“The international community became involved in Mali following the adoption of a UN resolution in 2013.,” he said. “Malians understood that it was to bring an end to the war, but as soon as the peace accord was signed, the resolution was changed to say that they weren’t here to end the war, but to protect the peace; but there is no peace,” Maiga said.