UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously backed sending up to 12,600 international troops and police to take over from French and African forces battling Islamist guerrillas in Mali.
The United Nations is aiming for a July 1 start by the new force, but the 15-nation council will decide later whether the conflict has eased enough for the handover.
French troops moved into Mali in January to halt an Islamist advance on the capital Bamako and have since forced the Al-Qaeda-linked militants into desert and mountain hideouts.
France is to keep up to 1,000 troops in Mali and they will maintain responsibility for military strikes against the Islamists, who are now waging a guerrilla campaign.
UN resolution 2100 authorizes France to intervene if the UN troops are “under imminent and serious threat and at the demand” of UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The resolution authorized the new force to use “all necessary measures” to stabilize major cities, protect civilians and help the government extend its authority over the vast West African nation.
“The adoption of this resolution confirms the unanimous international support for the stabilization of Mali and France’s intervention,” said France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud.
Mali’s Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly called the resolution “an important step in the process to stem the activities of terrorist and rebel groups.”
The proposed UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, to be known by its French acronym MINUSMA, would have a maximum of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police.
The core of the force will come from approximately 6,300 troops from 10 African nations already in Mali.
The Security Council will decide over the next 60 days if there has been a “cessation of major combat operations by international military forces” and “a significant reduction in the capacity of terrorist forces to pose a major threat” so the UN mission can start on time.
Mali’s army launched a coup in March 2012, which unleashed the chaos that allowed Tuareg rebels and their erstwhile Islamist allies to take over the north of the country and impose a brutal Islamic rule.
Many shrines in Timbuktu and other cities were destroyed, and public executions and amputations staged.
In a report in which he proposed the creation of the force, Ban noted the mission in Mali would face “significant threats,” including “terrorist groups and tactics, the proliferation of weapons, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and landmines.”
The UN mission will help to retrain Malian security forces and will also play a key role in political efforts to rebuild the enfeebled Malian state.
They will help Malian transitional authorities organize “inclusive, free, fair and transparent” presidential and legislative elections and help start “an inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation process.”
A special representative for Mali will be named to direct the mission.
The UN will have to help overcome deep mistrust between the Bamako government and Tuareg and Arab minorities. The international community is also concerned about the lingering influence of the Mali coup leaders over the transitional government.
It will take months for MINUSMA to reach full strength. The number should be around 6,000 troops on July 1 and increase as the current French contingent draws down, a UN diplomat said.
Around 150 French soldiers will participate in MINUSMA, including commanding officers. According to one expert, the mission is expected to cost several hundred million dollars a year at full strength.