France calls for Mali handover to UN troops
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday that France wanted a United Nations peacekeeping force to replace French forces deployed in Mali by April, incorporating troops offered by West African nations.
France on Wednesday called on the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers to Mali to take over from French forces battling Al-Qaeda linked guerrillas and speed up the deployment of human rights observers.
It will take "several weeks," however, before an assessment can be made on when French troops can hand over to peacekeepers, French ambassador Gerard Araud said after closed UN Security Council talks on the Mali crisis.
"France, for the first time at the Security Council, raised the perspective of the creation of a peacekeeping operation when security conditions permit it," he told reporters.
France has said it will start reducing its 4,000 military force in Mali in March and said it would take several weeks to complete planning for a UN force and to pass a Security Council resolution setting it up.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France aimed to have the UN force in place in Mali by April.
The force would support the stabilization of Mali after the French-Malian offensive and "help Malians to refound their country" with a "national pact" to end longstanding rivalry between the government and ethnic Tuaregs and Arabs.
With Islamists and Malian troops both accused of reprisal killings and abuses, Araud said: "Once again we insisted on the need to deploy human rights observers in all areas liberated by Franco-Malian forces."
A peacekeeping force will need the approval of the Malian government, which has expressed doubts. "We must have a dialogue with the Malian authorities" in coming weeks, Araud said.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous also acknowledged objections raised by the Bamako transitional government but said a peacekeeping force is supported by the African Union, the Economic 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. He said the UN was already working on "the different possible scenarios."
Much of the peacekeeping force will 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 the Islamist rebels against the capital Bamako.
The French and Chadian forces, with remnants of the Malian army, have since retaken northern towns from the Islamist rebels, who had enforced a brutal Sharia law there for 10 months.
But they are now engaged in raids on the militant groups who have pulled back to desert and mountain hideouts.
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