In a report presented to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Mali’s ruling junta to “accelerate” the pace of the handover, in order to return power to elected civilians by early 2024 as promised. Guterres notes “progress” made in Mali towards a return to civilian rule by March 2024. A constitution has been drafted and an election management authority established. But the UN chief warns that there has “been a delay in the implementation of some key activities. “With less than a year to go before the end of the transition, it is incumbent on the Malian authorities to do everything in their power to accelerate this process so that constitutional order is restored within the agreed timeframe.” Mali’s junta last month announced the indefinite postponement of a referendum on the new constitution. ‘Climate of mistrust’ Guterres is also concerned about the continuing violence and its impact on the population, as well as the deadlock in implementing the 2015 Algiers peace agreement between the Malian state and armed groups in the north. However, the signatories – particularly Tuareg independence groups – are at loggerheads with the junta, with the UN Secretary-General recognising a “climate of deep mistrust”. The Malian military government has insisted that “the diligent implementation of the transition timetable remains a priority of the Malian authorities” – as does the Algiers agreement – but it questions the basis of the UN accusations that Malian forces have committed abuses against civilians during operations in which “foreign security personnel” took part, alluding to the actions of the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Claims of civilian massacres On Wednesday, France’s UN Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière expressed concern that there has been no report on an attack in the central Malian town of Maura in late March 2022 “with, as we know, the involvement of the Wagner Group.” Human Rights Watch claims Mali’s army and foreign troops suspected to be Russian rounded up and killed an estimated 300 men in the town. Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia – who is currently chairman of the UN Security Council – retorted that Moscow is providing “comprehensive assistance” to enable the Malian army to increase its combat readiness, an initiative which is producing “real results on the ground.” As it stands, the UN Security Council must consider three options proposed by Guterres for the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission’s future: increase its size, reduce troop numbers, or withdraw military and police personnel completely and turn MINUSMA into a political operation. The mission mandate expires on 30 June.