UN peacekeepers to take over Mali mission in July
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United Nations troops will take over control from African soldiers in the conflict in Mali starting on Monday, as France reduces its deployment. French and African troops have been fighting an Islamist insurgency there since January.
At 12,600 soldiers, the United Nations forces in Mali will become the organisation’s third largest peacekeeping operation by the end of the year.
France, meanwhile, plans to reduce its 3,200 troops by the end of the August, leaving around 1,000 soldiers in Mali to handle potential military strikes against Islamists.
At its peak, France had deployed nearly 4,500 troops.
France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told the AFP News Agency that the situation in Mali was stable enough to warrant a peaceful transfer of security forces.
“Security conditions are satisfactory, no major attack has been recorded against the Malian and African forces, and most important, despite what certain people feared, the political process has experienced a very positive evolution,” said Araud.
The UN mission, to be led by Rwandan General Jean-Bosco Kazura, will be composed of a majority of African soldiers already stationed in Mali.
China has offered to supply an additional 500 troops, while Sweden plans to send around 70 soldiers. Norway is to contribute 25 soldiers and police, and Bangladesh is thought to have offered 1,000 troops, although no confirmation has been made.
Despite the promising peacekeeping mission, UN leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that troops imminently needed better training and equipment, in the face of potential guerrilla attacks.
The UN has called on member states to contribute personnel and equipment to the region, especially leading up to Mali’s presidential elections on 28 July.
While the UN mission is bound to play a key role in how Mali’s presidential polls unfold, the electoral commission has expressed concern about whether a free and fair poll could actually take place.
The commission’s president Mamadou Diamountani said it would be extremely difficult to get the country’s nearly eight million voting cards to the electorate, especially when nearly 500,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.
In the northeastern town of Kidal, which is occupied by Tuareg rebels, no army presence currently exists.
An accord signed in Burkina Faso on 18 June has hopes of ending hostilities between the Malian army and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) during the election period. Peace talks are planned for after the vote.