A GOODWILL DELEGATION VISITS MALI TO SEE THE  PEACEKEEPERS’ ACTIVITIES – Noor Islam Habib,  Assistant  Director, ISPR

Republic of Mali is a land locked country  in West Africa. Mali is the eighth largest country in Africa with an area of just over 12 lac 24 thousands square km. The population of Mali is 14.5 million. Its capital is Bamako.

Mali consists of eight regions and its border on the North reaches deep into middle of the Sahara. While the country’s southern part, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers. The country’s economic structure centres on agriculture and fishing. Some of the Mali’s prominent natural resources include gold and salt. About half of its population lives below the international poverty line. A majority of populations (90% ) are Muslims.

During the golden age of Mali, there was a flourishing mathematics, astronomy, literature and art. At its peak in 13th century, the Mali Empire covered an area about twice the size of modern-day France. In the late 19th century France seized the control of Mali making it a part of French Sudan. In 1960 Mali got independence from France. After a long period of one party rule a 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of  Mali as democratic multi-party state.

In January 2012 an armed conflict broke out in Northern Mali between Tuareg rebels and military. In April  Tuareg rebels declared secession  of new state, Azawad. They captured most of the Northern Mali and established control over there. In response to the Malian Government request, the French military launched an operation against Tuareg and Islamist rebels in January 2013. A month later, Malian and French forces recaptured most of the North. President election was held on July 2013 and Legislative election was held on 24 November and 15 December on the same year. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Modibo Keita were elected President and Prime Minister respectively.

Afterwards intra-conflict began among the rebel groups mentionablly the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad ( MNLA ), Ansar Dine and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Ultimately the most powerful secular rebel group MNLA had lost control over Northern Mali’s cities to the fundamental Islamist groups. But  by 8 January 2013 the Islamist-held territory had been re-taken  by joint  forces of Mali  and France. Though  the MNLA has also been accused of carrying out sporadic attacks against Malian Military.

Bangladesh deployed peacekeepers to Mali first on April 2014 following official request by United Nations.  A total of 1722 peacekeepers are working in Mali under United Nations Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali ( MINUSMA ). Bangladeshi peacekeepers include Army 1310, Navy 133, Air Force 123, Police 140 and Staff Officer 16 ( 2015 ). Ten countries  sent their troops in Mali including Bangladesh, USA, France, China, Netherlands, Niger, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Chad and Burkina Faso.

A 13-member goodwill delegation led by Major General  Md. Salahuddin Miaji visited Mali from 6 May to 12 May 2015 to see the  administrative and operational activities of Bangladeshi peacekeepers. Other members of the delegation include  Lt Colonel Md Zakir Hossain Bhuyan, Lt Colonel Md Motahar Hossain, Lt colonel Md Jahedur Rahman, Major Mohammad Firoj Ahmed, Major Muntasir Rahman Chowdhury, Joint Secretary Kazi Mahboob Hasan, Joint Secretary Shafiqual Ahmed, myself Md. Noor Islam (Habib ), Staff Reporter ( Desh TV ) Apel Mahmood, Cameraman Mahiuddin Shibli and Sergeant Manirul Islam. We reached Bamako early hours of 6 May where we were received by Member of Malian Parliament and Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Finance Mamadou Nfa Simpara.

In the morning on that day we went Lamiti Hotel what is presently  used  as Forces Headquarters of MINUSMA. Here we met  Forces Commander Major General Miceal Lollesgard ( Denmark ). The goodwill delegation also called on Mongi Hamdi,  Under Secretary General  of UN and Special Representative of UN Secretary  General in Mali.  Later we called on Chief of Staff Brigadier General Cristian Thewvolt. They all lauded the role of Bangladeshi Peacekeepers in MINUSMA. They appreciated discipline, sincerity, courage and professionalism of  Bangladeshi soldiers.

On 7 May we traveled to Gao and Kidal which are strategically  most important cities of Mali. Kidal  is 1600 km and Gao is 1300 km away from Bamako. 3400 peacekeepers of nine countries are deployed in Gao sector. A 133-member Bangladesh Naval contingent are working  here since April 2014. They are providing  security of 900 km long riverine route of  the Niger  flowing through Mali. Before they take over the water transportation was banned due to security threat. After taking over the responsibility they ensured the security of that water route and commercial  and other water transportation resumed. Bangladesh Navy also deployed BNS Darshak  and six speed boats  in Mali (2015).

A 100-member Signal contingent of Bangladesh Army has been  deployed in Gao.  They are installing   tele communication network between Sector East, Sector North And Sector Headquarters.  Their main responsibility is installation, operation and maintenance of communication system. They are also providing IT training to the officials and personnel of the Gao city. BANBAT—2 is also deployed in Gao city . They are extending security to the vehicle and personnel carrying logistics and rations on the way to Kidal from Bamako. They are also providing security to the civilian people and Gao Airport.

Kidal is a part of great Sahara Desert. Some time its temperature reaches up to 50 degree    Celsius.  A 140-member  BANENGR ( Bangladesh Engineer ) contingent is deployed here. They are discharging their duties within adverse weather condition and threat from rebel group of far beyond the hills. They are also facing  scarcity of water. They get only 10 litre of water per person a day. Sending of rations and logistics to Kidal is very difficult because most of the roads towards kidal are sandy and rocky terrains. BANENGR members are providing security of bunker, supplying water, constructing roads and patrolling the streets.

Bangladesh Air Force has deployed a 123-member BANAIR contingent at Kidal, Mali. BANAIR contingent is providing required operational support for air traffic control and airfield management both in Kidal Airfield  and UN camp. They are capable to provide services like air traffic control. ramp control, movecon, meteorological forecast, limited crash fire and rescue and flight following. BAF peacekeepers have already imprinted  a positive impression on overall air operation management in the air  field and camp helipad area.

Chief Operations Officer of BANBAT- 1 Lt Colonel Kazi Mohammad  Zakaria has presented us during our visit some success story of BANBAT – 1 in MINUSMA in Mali. Once an armed clash broke out  between two factions of Arab Movement of Azawad at Lerneb, 80 km  out of their area of operations, Diabaly. The nearest Burkina Faso Battalion was tasked to position themselves in between both the groups and ensure a negotiated truce is not violated.  Unfortunately, the Burkina patrol did not comply and so BANBAT was tasked directly by Forces Headquarters to go and take over the responsibility. Bangladesh patrol proved extremely successful in working as a buffer force between the two warring factions by getting inside  the Lerneb. Ultimately through patience and out reach activities the  patrol  could reduce tension and make peaceful solution.

A BANBAT patrol was assigned to collect information on the movement and intention of pro and anti-Azawad groups at a place called Tabankort.  During their stay a full blown clash broke out between the parties. The patrol leadership tried to defuse the situation  by going from one group to others and negotiated. At one instance  they were fired upon  but they were not deterred. The BANBAT kept position between fighting groups. Bullets and shells were falling  all around them but the patrol commander Major Sayadat refused to extricate knowingfully was that if they come out of the area a full-fledged attack on the village will take place and hundreds of civilians will be killed. Finally they could stop the fighting and the civilians remained unharmed. The operation lasted for 78 days and entire  episode demonstrated the courage and determination of BANBAT members.

As the situation deteriorated Sector North could not perform responsibility due to unavailability of combat/protected vehicles. The Forces HQ finding no other alternatives asked BANBAT to escort convoys all the way to Kidal operating over 400 km roads. The route was basically barren and rocky desert terrain with innumerable difficulties such as laying of mines, no source of water en-route, no shelter natural or otherwise for setting up camps during night halt etc.  The stretch of route between Anafis and Kidal was also mine prone but BANBAT patrols operated over it without the support of mine rollers. Thus BANBAT soldiers  showed their readiness to accept personal risk for others and was appreciated.

On 27 January 2015 widespread protest were organized by anti Azawad groups in Gao that targeted MINUSMA installations. The protest quickly turned violent by pelting stones and molotove cocktails and attempting to break MINUSMA security perimeters. BANBAT dealt with the situation by using alternatives to physical force. The soldiers displayed extreme patience and did not react to any provocation while leadership chose negotiation and no-lethal means. As a result, the unrest was successfully handled without any damage or loss of life and property.

On 10 March 2015 a BANBAT escort protecting 34 civilian logistic vehicles during a night halt was attacked by approximately 20/25 miscreants. They used automatic fire, mortars and IEDs to cause damage to the vehicles. The patrol fought back effectively by readjusting their defence and applying direct and indirect fire on the attackers. At one stage five attackers were seen crawling towards the camp location and the patrol fired forcing them to back. Thus BANBAT saved the civilian vehicles as well as accompanying civilians.

For their outstanding performance and efficiency BANBAT was selected for Premium Award by UN. For the first ever in UN peacekeeping history   only the Bangladesh received this prestigious award. All the 850 BANBAT members are getting this award.

A 120-member Bangladesh Transport Company ( BAN TPT ) are deployed in Bamako. They are tasked to dispatch rations, food items and logistics to Kidal from Bamako for UN peacekeepers operating 1600 km rocky terrain of Sahara desert. Through this route they have to face adverse weather and mine explosion threat.

Bangladeshi peacekeepers earned appreciations for extending helping hands to other peacekeepers also. We talked to Colonel Hamdi L Gamal of Egyptian Army in Bamako peacekeepers camp. He appreciated Bangladeshi peacekeepers for helping them when they arrived Bamako. Specially he mentioned the name of Major  SM Habib Ibne Jahan for his kind cooperation. Col Gamal said,  he supplied us rations . other food items and drinking water. They helped us for making accommodations. Bangladeshi peace keepers are very much cooperative and helpful, he said.  “ I said from my heart that Bangladeshis are my brothers”. “ Once we did not have food, rations, water, accommodation and fuel. Bangladeshi brothers  then supplied us all those things,” he added.

Bangladeshi peacekeepers also are providing medical treatment and medicines to others country’s peacekeepers as well as local civilians. It is surprising that overseas peacekeepers come to Bangladesh camp and receive medical treatment. Major Mizanoor Rahman of Bangladesh Army said, “ We provide medical treatment to other country’s peacekeepers and civilians also. Besides, we provide treatment anybody who come to us with emergency condition.”

Major Julsrab of Norway Army said, “  Bangladeshi doctors are very much sincere, professional and trustworthy. So not only ours peacekeepers but peacekeepers of other countries come to Bangladesh camp and receive  treatment.”

 

Mobile : 01769017196

E-mail :  nihabib@gmail.com