Support grows for U.N. force in Mali

Tue Feb 5, 2013 3:08pm EST
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By Adrian Croft and Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - African and Western countries threw their support on Tuesday behind the idea of having United Nations peacekeepers eventually take over from an African force being deployed in Mali.

France sent troops to Mali last month to halt the advance of al Qaeda-affiliated militants who launched an offensive that threatened the capital Bamako.

France's initial aim was to block the advance until a U.N-authorized African force could deploy to take over the fight.

But the rapid progress of French and Malian forces in ousting the rebels from major northern Malian towns has led some countries to float the idea of moving immediately or in the medium-term to a U.N. peacekeeping operation.

"There is support shared by the African Union, by France, by the United States, by (West African grouping) ECOWAS, all the key players, to gradually move towards a peacekeeping operation under U.N. control, but in the medium term," French Development Minister Pascal Canfin told reporters during an international meeting on Mali in Brussels.

But he said the African force must first deploy in Mali, as agreed. After that, work could take place on converting the African force into a U.N. peacekeeping operation although there would have to be agreement on its mandate.

Diplomats in New York said last week that the U.N. Security Council would soon begin discussing a possible U.N. peacekeeping force for Mali, an idea the world body had been uncomfortable with before France's military intervention.

Delegations from around 45 governments and international organizations met in Brussels to discuss ways to reinforce military gains against Islamist rebels in northern Mali by supporting democracy, economic development and human rights in one of the world's poorest countries.   Continued...