The United Nations Security Council has given the green light for a peacekeeping force to be deployed to Mali. The force is expected to face an array of unprecented challenges, with sweltering desert heat among them.
Officials on Tuesday said that unanimous approval had been given for a UN peacekeeping force - to be known as MINUSMA - to take charge of security in Mali from the beginning of July.
France is set to formally hand over security duties to the UN on Monday, although at least 1,000 French troops will remain in Mali to carry out anti-terrorism operations.
"There was unanimous agreement by Security Council members that we should move to the next phase of Mali's recovery with the deployment of MINUSMA from July 1," said the president of the Security Council, British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
It is expected that the 11,200-strong peacekeeping force will reach its full operational capacity by the end of December this year. The UN force will face the initial task of securing elections slated for July 28.
However, UN envoy to Mali, Albert Koenders - addressing the Security Council by videolink from the Malian capital, Bamako - said there would be “major challenges” to holding the election on time. Among the challenges, he said, were maintaining a broad political consensus on the elections and registering the thousands of people both internally and externally displaced.
The poll has been made possible after the interim government signed an interim peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels on June 18. As part of the deal, Malian forces are set to return to the northern town of Kidal, which has been held by rebels. The peacekeepers would also be expected to implement a ceasefire in the town.
Murders and looting
Human rights violations by both government troops and Tuareg rebels have been reported, including extra-judicial executions, looting and illegal arrests.
UN head of peacekeeping Herve Ladsous briefed the council, saying that the overall operation would require careful oversight and preparation. Among the particular difficulties facing the force are withering temperatures, which could cause problems with equipment. Concerns also exist about water supply.
At present, the force - which is to operate in a country twice the size of France - also faces a lack of aircraft. MINUSMA is to initially comprise of some 6,100 West African and Chadian troops already stationed in Mali.
"We are facing new and unique challenges," Ladsous said. "The United Nations is deploying a peacekeeping operation in a new geopolitical context with asymmetric threats not previously encountered."
The UN on Wednesday vowed it would screen all Chadian troops set to become a part of the mission, to ensure that no child soldiers were part of it. The country has appeared on a UN list of nations where underage fighters have been recruited to fight by government forces.
French troops were deployed to Mali in January to oust radical Islamist fighters who had taken over the north of the country after hijacking a Tuareg uprising there, imposing Shariah law.
rc/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)