France seeks UN peace force in Mali
France has asked the UN Security Council to consider establishing a peacekeeping operation in Mali, a move which reinforced its plan to send French troops home as soon as military operations end.
France's UN Ambassador, Gerard Araud, told reporters that he started discussions on the issue during closed council consultations on Mali, but insisted that a UN force would deploy only when security conditions permit.
"So I think we have to wait several weeks before assessing the security environment and taking the decision of deploying a peacekeeping operation," he said.
Mali was plunged into turmoil after a coup in March 2012 created a security vacuum. That allowed the secular Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by Mali's government, to take half the north as a new homeland. But months later, the rebels were kicked out by the Islamists who imposed strict Shariah law in the north, including amputations for theft.
France launched a military operation against the Islamist extremists on January 11 after they suddenly started moving south into government-controlled areas and captured key towns.
The unexpected move by the al Qaida-linked extremists, and France's intervention, are forcing the Security Council to revamp its two-track plan, adopted in December, to reunify the country.
The council resolution authorised an African-led force known as Afisma to support Malian authorities in recovering the north but set no timeline for military action. Instead, it set out benchmarks to be met before the start of offensive operations, beginning with progress on a political roadmap to restore constitutional order.
With French and African troops now in control of the major towns in northern Mali, there have been discussions on how best to maintain stability in the country and return it to democratic rule.
On the military side, there were three options: a UN peacekeeping force, a hybrid UN-African force like the one in Darfur which has been criticised because of the dual UN-African Union command, or an all-African force like the one in Somalia which has constant funding problems.
At an international meeting on Mali in Brussels, there was widespread support by key players including the African Union, the west African regional bloc Ecowas, France and the United States to gradually move toward a UN peacekeeping operation.