Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mali: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Effective July 18

COMMENT: The US Department of State warns US citizens against all travel to Mali because of ongoing conflict in northern Mali, fluid political conditions, and continuing threats of attacks and kidnappings of westerners. 

While the security situation in Bamako remains relatively stable, there are ongoing security concerns and military operations taking place in the northern and western parts of the country. Mali continues to face challenges including food shortages, internally displaced persons, and the presence in northern Mali of extremist and militant factions.

Public demonstrations in Mali were banned during the “state of emergency” in effect from January 12 through July 6, following a January 10 terrorist offensive and a January 11 military intervention by French forces. The "state of emergency" enabled the government to take extraordinary measures to deal with the crisis in the north. The state of emergency expired on July 6. Groups may once again congregate in open, public locations, and campaigning has begun for the presidential election scheduled to take place on July 28, with a second round, if necessary, to be held on August 11. 

As a result of safety and security concerns following the Spring 2012 coup and counter coup, some organizations, including foreign companies, NGOs, and private aid organizations temporarily suspended operations in Mali or withdrew some family members and/or staff. Many of these organizations have now recommenced operations and started to allow family members and staff to return. The US Embassy continues to operate normally and will continue to monitor the situation closely and update US citizens via Security or Emergency Messages for US Citizens. 

The US Embassy has instructed embassy employees and their dependents to be cautious when traveling within Bamako. It encourages US citizens to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure personal safety. US citizens throughout Mali should develop personal contingency plans, avoid all unnecessary travel, and travel on main roads. Malian security forces are regularly updating security safeguards, including checkpoints and other controls on movement in Bamako and around the country. A United Nations peacekeeping mission has also been deployed in Mali. On July 1, the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) transferred its authority to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). When fully deployed, MINUSMA is expected to have more than 12,000 personnel in Mali. 

The Government of Mali may periodically impose or lift curfews as security needs may dictate. US citizens should be mindful of such potential measures, stay attuned to local news announcing such curfews, and comply with such locally imposed curfews. For internal safety and security reasons, the US Embassy may also, without advance notice, periodically impose a temporary curfew on US Embassy employees should the need arise. Whenever possible, such restrictions will be shared with the private US citizen community and posted on the Embassy's website. US citizens should carefully consider adopting similar safety measures by limiting any unnecessary travel or movements during such periods of heightened tension. 

Extremist and militant elements, including al-Qaeda in the Lands of Islamic Maghreb (Elements of AQIM), Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO), and other groups continue to be present in northern Mali, although they have been mostly dislodged from major population centers, including Gao and Timbuktu. The situation in Kidal remains fluid, but a June 18 agreement between the Government of Mali and armed northern groups provided for an interim solution that allowed for the return of the Government of Mali's authority to that city and permitted citizens of that region the opportunity to participate in the July 28 presidential elections. Terrorist groups have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnapping attempts on westerners, particularly those linked to support for international military intervention. 

US citizens should also note that the Embassy has prohibited all personal travel by US government employees and their dependents to all areas in Mali outside the central area of the Koulikoro Region. The Koulikoro Region includes the district of Bamako and cities of Koulikoro, Ouelessebougou, Siby, and Kangaba. Official travel outside the Koulikoro region requires prior authorization from the Ambassador. These designations are based on insecurity in areas adjacent to this area, including the presence of AQIM and the threat of kidnapping, as well as banditry in the outlying regions. US citizens planning to travel to Mali, particularly to destinations outside of Bamako, should consult the US Embassy's website or your host organization(s) for the most recent security assessment of the areas where you plan to travel. 

Senou International Airport in Bamako is open for business and scheduled flights are proceeding normally. Some international flights have occasionally been canceled due to low travel volume, but travelers have been notified in advance. Persons wishing to depart the country should check with commercial airlines for the airport's operational status, and flight and seat availability, before traveling to the airport. 

In this period of heightened tension, the US Embassy reminds all US citizens of the risk of terrorist activity in Mali, including in Bamako. US citizens are urged to exercise caution, to be particularly alert to their surroundings, and to avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering. US citizens are further encouraged to exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by westerners in and around Bamako. 

For the full text of the updated travel warning see:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_6034