New York – France which is battling Islamist militants in
Mali, will not formally propose setting up a UN peacekeeping force to take over
until at least April, the French UN ambassador said on Wednesday.
France sent troops to Mali in January to halt an Islamist
advance on the capital and force rebels out of cities they had seized in the
north of the country. French and Chadian forces are now embroiled in a
guerrilla war there.
France's UN envoy Gerard Araud said the UN Security Council
had on Wednesday agreed to send a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
asking for a study on "the modalities and conditions for the creation of a
The report will have to be ready by the end of March. Araud
said the Security Council would then start negotiating setting up the force.
France had said it wanted to start withdrawing its 4 000
troops from Mali in March.
But even if a resolution is passed in April, it normally
takes up to three months after that for the United Nations to set up its own
military command. Araud said it could be done in two months in this case.
An African force is already gathering in Mali which should
form the core of any UN force, but peacekeepers could not take part in the kind
of strikes against militants that the French and Chadians have conducted.
French troops will hand over to the UN peacekeepers
"when the security conditions allow it", Araud said, without giving
No clear request
The Security Council will decide if it is safe enough to
send peacekeepers, he added.
The Malian government must also agree to the UN force, and
there has still been no clear request for one from the transitional
President Dioncounda Traore sent a letter to the UN leader
Araud quoted the letter as saying that Traore requested the
"rapid deployment" of a West African force, currently operating as
AFISMA, "to restore the authority and sovereignty of the Malian state".
"The realisation of these targets would lead us toward
the transformation of AFISMA into a UN stabilisation and peacekeeping
operation," Araud quoted the letter as saying.
During consultations on Mali, Security Council members
stressed the need to press for reconciliation and a political accord between
the Bamako government and ethnic Tuaregs and Arabs in the north.
Malian troops have been accused of carrying out reprisal
killings and human rights abuses in towns they have retaken from the rebels.
Araud said he had called on the UN secretariat to
"accelerate" the sending of rights observers to Mali, adding that
French forces would protect the UN observers "if necessary".