Ole Martin Gaasholt talking while Colonel Carl-Magnus R Svensson in listening.

Mali puts Swedish UN troops to the test

Deadly violence, fighting between Tuareg groups, and very hash conditions are some of the challenges for the Swedish UN troops going to Mali. At a seminar in Stockholm, researchers and military personnel discussed the realities facing the 250 soldiers in the desert.

The 9,500-strong MINUSMA force took over peacekeeping operations in Mali in July 2013. As of December 31, 2014, there had been already 44 fatalities; a clear sign of how dangerous the mission will be for the Swedish soldier joining the UN troops, panellists at the seminar Timbuktu nästa! ("Next stop: Timbuktu!") concluded.

"Apart from conflicts between Tuaregs and the state as well as militant Islamism, the state is not present in people's lives in Mali. There is a risk that the French and UN presence will make the government passive. We need to put pressure also on the state", Magdalena Tham Lindell, heading the Africa project at FOI, a research institute under the Swedish Ministry of Defence, said.

NAI researcher Ole Martin Gaasholt, who was invited to describe the Malian society, emphasised women as important actors in peace building.

"Women are often put forward as potential peacemakers in Northern Mali. Even though the society is quite divided and structured according to gender, women do have a lot of influence 'behind the scenes'. Women with a strong personality can make their voices heard within their community", Gaasholt said.

In addition to engaging women, the UN troops should recognise the complexity of the Tuareg groups.

"New rebel groups are formed to the extent that one easily mixes them up. The Tuareg groups in Mali can have quite different ambitions and agendas. It is a very complex picture", Gaasholt said.

The leader for the Swedish mission to Mali, Colonel Carl-Magnus R Svensson, ensured that the solders are well prepared for the four main threats they will face: diseases, direct attacks, traffic, and the physical environment.

"We have good equipment, and are well educated and trained. Military training during the winter in Sweden actually works well in preparation for a hot desert. We learn that nature is unforgiving", he said.

Read all the tweets from the seminar below.

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