Drug Trafficking Fueling Mali Conflict, Minister

Drug trafficking is a major problem fueling the conflict in Mali and impeding the peace process, the country's foreign minister said Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

"Drug trafficking is really a major concern," Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told reporters after a U.N. meeting on Mali.

"It fuels the conflict, funds the terrorist organizations and it destabilize the country so all these are interlinked," he said.

The minister said drug trafficking went hand in hand with terror attacks as the two big impediments to implementing the peace agreement.

"Unless we tackle seriously these issues we'll not succeed in having a lasting peace in Mali," he said.

Three months after reaching a peace deal designed to end decades of conflict in northern Mali, stability remains an elusive dream undermined by tribal rivalries and internecine power struggles.

"There were very difficult beginnings," admitted Diop "but there is also some good news."

He said a committee overseeing the agreement was working daily, and on the ground schools had reopened in Timbuktu and Gao. They would also reopen in Kidal on October 15 after being closed three years.

"Despite the challenges, the process is working," he said.

The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, reiterated "the unwavering commitment of the international community" to Mali. "The peace process is an historic opportunity and must continue," he said.

Jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaida seized control of Mali's vast arid north from March 2012 until January 2013 when they were pushed back by forces from France, the country's former colonial master.

But parts of the remote north remain out of the control of the army or of the U.N. military mission as the country struggles to restore peace.

There were hopes of a return to stability in May when northern-based loyalist militias signed a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in the area, but the deal remains fragile.

Source: Agence France Presse

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