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A convoy of French army vehicles patrol on February 4, 2013 between Timbuktu and Douentza/AFP


UN mulls sending peacekeepers to Mali as rebels hit back

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A convoy of French army vehicles patrol on February 4, 2013 between Timbuktu and Douentza/AFP

A convoy of French army vehicles patrol on February 4, 2013 between Timbuktu and Douentza/AFP

GAO, Mali, Feb 7 – The UN is considering sending peacekeepers to Mali, following a proposal from Paris which said that French forces have killed hundreds of Islamist rebels but are still coming under attack.

After announcing plans to start withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Mali in March, France called for a peacekeeping force to take the baton, the French ambassador to the UN said after closed Security Council talks on the crisis.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a peacekeeping force could be in place by April, incorporating troops being deployed under the banner of a West African intervention force, AFISMA, into a UN mission.

“Once security is assured, we can certainly envisage, without changing the structures, that this takes place in the framework of a peacekeeping operation,” Fabius told journalists in Paris.

“This gives the advantage of being under the umbrella of the United Nations, under its financing,” he said.

France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said it would take “several weeks” to make an assessment on sending peacekeepers.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous acknowledged objections raised by the Bamako transitional government but said such a force is supported by the African Union, the Community of West African States and key UN members.

“I think there is clearly a shared desire of the international community to do what needs to be done in Mali,” Ladsous told a press conference in New York. He said the UN was already working on “the different possible scenarios.”

Much of the peacekeeping force would come from troops offered by West African nations, diplomats and UN officials said.

More than 6,000 troops have been promised to the West African interim force. There are also about 2,000 Chadian troops fighting alongside the French forces who entered Mali on January 10 to halt a march by Islamist rebels against the capital Bamako.

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France launched a surprise intervention in its former colony on January 11 as Islamist groups that had seized control of the north in the aftermath of a military coup pushed south toward the capital Bamako.

French-led forces have largely pushed the rebels back to remote mountains near the Algerian border but are still being attacked in retaken territory, raising fears of a prolonged insurgency.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the rebels had hit back at troops with rocket fire on Tuesday in Gao, the largest northern city.

“Once our troops, supported by Malian forces, started patrols around the towns that we have taken, they met residual jihadist groups who are still fighting,” Le Drian said on Europe 1 radio.

“The combat isn’t over. The attacks are going to continue,” a spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) told AFP.

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