UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council is expected to approve a new U.N. peacekeeping force for Mali to help restore democracy and stabilize the northern half of the country, which was controlled by Islamist jihadists until a France-led military operation ousted them three months ago.
The council is expected to vote Thursday morning on a resolution that would authorize a U.N. force comprising 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 international police. The U.N. peacekeepers would take over from a 6,000-member African-led mission on July 1, although the deployment date would subject to review.
Mali fell into turmoil after a March 2012 coup created a security vacuum that allowed secular Tuareg rebels to take over half of the north as a new homeland. Months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists who imposed strict Shariah law in the north.
When the Islamists started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive on Jan. 11 to oust them. The fighters, many linked to al-Qaida, fled the major towns in the north but many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.
If it approves the resolution, the Security Council would review the deployment date within 60 days to assess whether terrorists pose a major threat in areas where the U.N. troops would operate or if international military forces are conducting major combat operations in those areas. If so, the council could delay the deployment.
The final draft of the resolution, which was obtained by The Associated Press, authorizes French troops to intervene to support U.N. troops "under imminent and serious threat" at the request of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The draft makes no mention of counter-terrorism operations. France is currently carrying out such operations and is likely to continue doing so under an agreement with the Malian government.
The mandate of the U.N. force under the draft resolution does not include going after insurgents. Its key jobs would be to stabilize key population centers in the north, support the re-establishment of government authority throughout the country, and assist the transitional authorities in restoring constitutional order, democratic governance and national unity.
The resolution would authorize the force "to take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements" to the northern areas. The U.N. peacekeepers would also support efforts to rebuild the Malian police and disarm and demobilize former combatants.
The draft resolution condemns the move "by terrorist, extremist and armed groups toward the south" in January, as well as human rights abuses including executions, amputations and sexual violence. It reiterates that perpetrators must be held accountable and takes note that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged crimes.
The draft resolution also supports political dialogue and presidential and legislative elections scheduled for July.