The UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to send a 12,600-member peacekeeping force to Mali starting in July. The force will be taking over for French and African troops battling Islamist guerrillas.
The UN peacekeeping force, which will be known as MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), will assume authority from a UN backed African force, AFISMA, deployed there to take over from the French.
The UN force will comprise of, at the most, 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police, most of whom will come from the 6,300 troops from 10 African nations already in Mali. About 150 French soldiers will also join the force.
France intervened in Mali in January, after the al Qaeda-linked militants that controlled the country's north made a push for the capital, Bamako. French and African troops have since pushed the Al-Qaeda-linked militants into desert and mountain hideouts, where they are now staging guerrilla attacks.
The Security Council must now, within the next 60 days, determine whether there has been a "cessation of major combat operations by international military forces" and "a significant reduction in the capacity of terrorist forces to pose a major threat" - conditions for the mission to start on time.
Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly told the council that the resolution was "an important step in the process to stem the activities of terrorist and rebel groups."
"This mission ... will be concentrated, amongst other things, on stabilizing the main urban centers in the North, restoring the authority of the state ... the protection of civilians, the promotion and protection of human rights as well as humanitarian assistance," said Coulibaly.
Mali's government hopes to hold elections at the end of July, but some diplomats and UN officials said that goal may be too ambitious.
France has already started withdrawing its roughly 4,000-strong force but will keep up to 1,000 troops in Mali to maintain responsibility for military strikes.
According to the resolution, French forces will be able to intervene to support MINUSMA when the UN troops are "under imminent and serious threat and upon the request of the secretary-general," UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
"Our soldiers still in Mali will be able to come to the support of the peacekeeping operation if circumstances demand," France's President Francois Hollande said in a statement welcoming the UN resolution.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after the vote, "We know its going to be a fairly volatile environment."
The new peacekeeping force will be the UN's third largest, behind deployments in Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur in Sudan. The task force is expected to cost up to $800 million annually, UN officials say.
A special representative for Mali will be named to direct the mission.
hc/msh (Reuters, AFP)