French President Francois Hollande has been awarded a U.N.-sponsored peace prize, barely a year into his presidency and just months after sending thousands of troops to Mali to fight Islamic extremists.

The prize givers and African leaders attending Wednesday's awards ceremony say Hollande deserves UNESCO's Felix Houphouet-Boigny prize precisely because they say the Mali intervention is about long-term peace for a volatile region.

But continued violence in northern Mali, terrorist attacks in neighboring Niger and the extremists' flight to troubled Libya underline the challenges of making that work.

Hollande himself acknowledged the prize seems "paradoxical," but defended the Mali campaign as aimed at "ending aggression."

Before the French military intervention in January, northern Mali was overrun by a trio of al-Qaida-linked groups who threatened to move on the capital.