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U.N. chief proposes peacekeepers for Mali

by EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press on March 27, 2013 10:10 AM

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a U.N. peacekeeping force for Mali with 11,200 troops working alongside a non-U.N. force that would conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations against Islamic extremists Tuesday as one option to maintain security after French forces leave the crisis-wracked West African nation.

The U.N. chief said in a report to the Security Council that another option would be to strengthen the U.N.’s new political mission in Mali and give the African-led force in Mali known as AFISMA, responsibility for security and offensive combat operations, as a prelude to a U.N. stabilization mission.

The secretary-general rejected a request from many Malians as well as the African Union and West African regional group for a U.N. force to undertake combat operations against terrorist groups saying this falls well outside the U.N. peacekeeping doctrine and peacekeepers aren’t trained or equipped for fighting extremists in the deserts and mountains of northern Mali.

Mali was plunged into turmoil after a coup in March 2012 created a security vacuum. That allowed secular rebel Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalized by Mali’s government, to take half of the north as a new homeland. But months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists who imposed strict Shariah law in the north, including amputations for theft.

France launched a military operation Jan. 11 against the Islamic extremists after they suddenly started moving south into government-controlled areas and captured key towns. Backed by Chadian soldiers, French troops ousted the radical Islamic fighters from the major towns in northern Mali, though many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.

France — the former colonial ruler of Mali — has said it has no intention of keeping its 4,000 troops in Mali for the long term and plans a gradual pullout starting in April.

The unexpected move south by the extremists and France’s intervention are forcing the Security Council to revamp the two-track plan it adopted in December to reunify the country. The council had authorized AFISMA to support Malian authorities in recovering the north alongside a political process promoting reconciliation and leading to elections.

In Tuesday’s report, the secretary-general said that in response to a council request he was presenting two options for a possible U.N. peace and security presence in Mali that take into account “the fact that the United Nations is operating in a new geopolitical context and faces threats that have not been encountered before in a peacekeeping context.”

“The situation on the ground remains fluid,” Ban stressed. “Although the extremists and criminal elements have been dealt a heavy blow, they continue to pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the civilian population and any United Nations personnel deployed in Mali.”

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