The United Nations could have a peacekeeping operation in place in Mali this July if deployment of such a force gets approval from the Malian government and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), a senior U.N. official said at the weekend while wrapping up his visit to the African nation.
"July could see the transfer of AFISMA to a U.N. stabilization mission," Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet told journalists in the Malian capital Bamako, referring to the African-led International Support Mission in Mali by its French acronym - AFISMA.
In December 2012, the UNSC had authorized AFISMA's deployment to support national efforts to recover the north from Islamist rebels who had seized the region in April amid chaos triggered by a military coup, following a request from the Malian government.
The UNSC approval came after Islamist rebels captured several towns in central Mali and threatened to advance further into the government-controlled south from their strongholds in the north. Subsequently France began its military campaign in Mali on January 11 after the UNSC authorized foreign military intervention in the conflict.
The French-led forces have since recaptured northern Mali from Islamist rebels, prompting Paris to transfer control of the military mission to the African-led forces. According to the U.N., the conflict as well as drought and political instability have forced more than 412,000 people to flee northern Mali in recent months.
Incidentally, Mulet's visit to Mali was for assessing possible options for a U.N. presence. Speaking to media on Saturday, he stressed that any U.N. force would be limited and focus on supporting the Malian authorities and protecting civilians.
"The sovereignty of Mali is the main objective of this international support. It is not to create a buffer between the north and the south. The members of the Security Council and the member-states are very clear on the need for Mali to extend its authority over all its territory," he said.
The 15-member UNSC is required to vote on any U.N. presence in the country. That authorization is likely to be up for debate following a report due on March 27 from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Even if the UNSC approves the measure, it would take approximately another two months to deploy a U.N. force to Mali.
by RTT Staff Writer
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