- Associated Press - Friday, June 13, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging immediate implementation of a cease-fire agreement in northern Mali and political negotiations between the government and Tuareg rebels who still control the key town of Kidal.

The U.N. chief said in a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday that the resumption of hostilities last month has resulted in “an altered security landscape in the north of Mali with risks for international security.”

He said terrorist and armed groups operating in the north, “with an increasing footprint in the mountainous areas north of Kidal,” pose a significant threat to civilians, U.N. peacekeepers, and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The cease-fire agreement signed on May 23 commits both sides to return to a previous cease-fire agreement signed in June 2013. It enabled presidential elections to take place the following month. But it also required Tuareg rebels to garrison their fighters prior to disarmament which has not happened.

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists though the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.

Tensions escalated sharply last month when Mali’s newly named Prime Minister Moussa Mara visited Kidal for the first time. In response, Tuareg rebels launched an assault on government buildings in the town, killing eight soldiers, six local government officials and two others in what the government described as a “declaration of war.”

A cease-fire was mediated by the African Union, but secretary-general Ban stressed that “there can be no durable solution to the security challenges in the north without a political process that paves the way for the full restoration of law and order, equal access by all Malians to public services, and reconciliation between communities.”

He warned “that in the absence of a political process, terrorist groups will seize opportunities to target Malian and international forces, and threaten civilians in the north.”

A suicide attack at a U.N. camp in the Kidal region on Wednesday killed four U.N. peacekeepers, raising concerns of worsening security as government officials warned about the possible return of Islamic extremists to the region.

The Security Council authorized a U.N. force of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 police for Mali last year, but Ban said as of May 26 its strength was significantly lower - 8,280 military personnel and 979 police.

He stressed, however, that the government “has primary responsibility for resolving the challenges facing Mali and protecting civilians throughout the country.”

“As an essential first step, the parties to the conflict must abandon the logic of war and commit to the peace process,” Ban said. “Only when this process is ‘Malian-owned’ will durable solutions to the conflict be possible.”

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