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France backs having UN contingent in Mali

Mali rebels flee to the desert.

Mali rebels flee to the desert.

PARIS — France’s defence minister has said he backs the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Mali.

Jean-Yves Le Drian’s comments come as the French troops continue to secure the most northerly town of Kidal.

France has deployed some 4,500 troops during the three-week offensive against militant Islamists in the north of Mali – an area the size of France.

But is now preparing to hand over the towns it has captured to an African force, expected to number 7,700.

So far about 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, are thought to be on the ground in Mali.

It will be the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents that have fled into the desert further north.

The UN Security Council had previously been uncomfortable about deploying a force under a UN mandate, but support is growing.

Envoys believe it would easier to monitor and prevent human rights abuses if the UN could pick and choose which national contingents to use, he says.

A French army spokesman in Bamako, Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Dosseur, told the BBC French Service that France’s special forces were in Kidal, but the majority of troops were still at the airport.

A heavy sandstorm that had hampered operations yesterday was starting to clear, and troops may soon be able to continue their deployment, he said. (BBC)

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