• Kyodo

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Sophie Solomon, the United Nations officer in charge of civilian-military coordination in Mali in western Africa, says the Self-Defense Forces would be more than welcome to join the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the conflict-riven country.

“There is need for a lot of infrastructure” to be built in Mali, Solomon said in a recent interview, referring to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s achievements conducting similar work in South Sudan.

In line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiative to be more militarily proactive in making peaceful international contributions, officials in the Defense and Foreign ministries have been exploring the possibility of sending the SDF on more peacekeeping missions, according to government sources familiar with the discussions.

The SDF, however, would reportedly be hesitant about sending personnel to French-speaking countries like Mali due to language concerns.

Solomon tried to ease such fears, pointing out that Chinese troops have been operating there without a problem.

“We have lots of engineers from the Chinese contingent” building military camps, she said.

Solomon visited Japan in early December to participate in a symposium titled “Civil-Military Coordination in Complex Emergencies” that was organized by the Japan Peacekeeping Training and Research Center, a part of the SDF Joint Staff College.

Mali has been wracked with violence since January 2012, when members of the Tuareg tribe along with Islamic armed groups and deserters from the Malian armed forces initiated a series of attacks against government forces in the northern part of the country.

They took control of the north, seizing major cities such as Kidal and Gao, before advancing to the south where the capital Bamako is located, with the support of the militant group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

After receiving a request for military help from the Malian government, France intervened in January 2013 with a series of airstrikes, driving anti-government elements from the north.

The formation of the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, dubbed Minusma, was authorized by the U.N. Security Council in April 2013 and peacekeeping troops began deploying there that July.

French forces have since been conducting counterterrorism operations, trying to remove remnants of anti-government forces.

Solomon said the security situation in north Mali “has deteriorated for the past few months,” with anti-government armed forces increasing attacks against French battalions and Minusma troops via improvised explosive devices that have caught humanitarian workers as well.

There is “ongoing asymmetric warfare,” she said. “The number of casualties within the mission is one of the highest among all the peacekeeping missions in the world.”

However, she said the security situation in the south is stable.

Solomon, who works as a coordinator between U.N. peacekeeping troops, Malian and French forces and civilian groups such as nongovernmental organizations, said she sometimes needs to communicate with anti-government forces and puts great effort into building “neutrality and impartiality” to gain support from local people.

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