New York - The United Nations acknowledged on Thursday that it is struggling to get peacekeeping troops into place in Mali as France seeks to draw down its force battling militant groups there.
One year after France intervened to halt an Islamist march on Mali's capital, the UN mission in the impoverished West African nation has just 5 500 of the 11 200 troops it intended to build up.
France still has more than 2 500 troops in Mali but wants to cut this to 1 000 by July.
Four peacekeepers in the mission, officially known as MINUSMA, have been killed and others have been wounded in continuing attacks by al-Qaeda linked extremists in the north of the country.
MINUSMA chief Bert Koenders told the UN Security Council the security challenges in Mali are still "enormous".
"It is therefore essential that the international community continues to back without delay efforts to accelerate the generation and deployment of the remaining MINUSMA units in the north of the country," Koenders told the 15 nation council.
Afterwards he told reporters that about 90% of the needed peacekeepers had been promised by countries including China, El Salvador and Netherlands.
But he added that the troops had to get in place by the time French forces leave.
France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said he had raised the "slow" deployment of troops during council consultations.
"There will be terrorist attacks," Araud told reporters. "It is a danger we are facing and it is to the MINUSMA to have the right posture and to be ready to face it."
Koenders also said that efforts to launch talks between the national government elected last year and representatives of the Tuareg and Arab communities had to be stepped up.
Bitterness between the government and the minority groups has been blamed for the build-up of tensions which led to the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012.
The UN official said the government had a "willingness" to start reconciliation talks but that "confidence building" measures were needed.