Colombo (News 1st) – The future of Sri Lanka Army soldiers currently serving in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the west-central African nation of Mali, was thrown into doubt after the military government of Mali last Friday asked the UN Security Council to end its peacekeeping operations there.
According to the UN, Sri Lanka currently has 243 soldiers serving in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. Sri Lanka’s contingent is known as the Combat Convoy Company and carries out escort duties for convoys carrying food and other material across nearly a thousand kilometers over the Sahara Desert, from one town to another.
The Sri Lanka Army has distinguished itself over a decade of operations with MINUSMA in Mali. Two of the contingent – Captain H.W.D. Jayawickrama of the 11th Sri Lanka Light Infantry, and Corporal S.S. Wijekumara of the 1st Mechanised Infantry Regiment were killed in action there in 2019. Twenty-one other soldiers were wounded.
MINUSMA has been in Mali for 10 years, but its mandate will run out at the end of this month, on the 30th of June, 2023. The UN has not yet responded to the request from the government of Mali, but it does not generally operate peacekeepers in any country without the agreement of the respective government.
Sri Lanka Army soldiers have served with MINUSMA since 2017.
Brig. Ravi Herath, the Sri Lanka Army Spokesman, when contacted by News 1st, said that they have not been officially informed of any change in the status of MINUSMA up to now.
MINUSMA is one of the UN’s largest-ever peacekeeping missions, with more than 15,000 soldiers from over 60 countries currently deployed, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. A total of 304 peacekeepers have been killed in action in Mali since 201.
The withdrawal of MINUSMA would also have a slight impact on foreign currency payments into Sri Lanka at this crucial time when the nation is battling to climb out of bankruptcy.
The United Nations reimburses any government at a rate of USD 1,428 per month, according to the United Nations website. It is up to each government to pay the salaries of the soldiers.
Mali is a huge nation of 1.24 million square kilometers. But much of it is in the Sahara Desert and most of its population is impoverished. The country has been wracked by several military coups over the past few years.
MINUSMA was sent into Mali to support the armed forces of Mali and France, its former colonial master, to battle rebels backed by the Islamic State or ISIL.
But last Friday Mali’s government officially requested that the MINUSMA operation be terminated, stating that it has failed to bring peace to Mali after even a decade.
The government of Mali is known to have recently started working with mercenaries of the Russian Wagner Group, who have become famous as frontline troops with the Russian military in the invasion of Ukraine.
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