UN Said to Weigh Sending Peacekeeping Force to Mali

United Nations peacekeepers may be deployed to Mali after French troops leave to ensure that Islamist militants don’t seek to reclaim the northern part of the country, according to UN officials.

The UN Security Council in New York will discuss in coming days whether to send as many as 5,000 troops to protect civilians and keep the land-locked West African country stable before peace talks and an election, according to two officials familiar with the discussions of the operations. They asked to not be named as the plans are preliminary.

After retaking the airport in Kidal, the last major city outside the control of the Malian government, the French military is now keen to end its three-week old offensive and hand over responsibility for its former colony to other forces.

What remains to be decided is whether African soldiers on the ground will fold into the UN peacekeeping force or if the operation will take a different form, the officials said.

Any decision will be subject to a vote by the UN’s decision-making body, which last month approved a plan for an African force to retake northern Mali from extremists. That plan was jettisoned when the rebels moved south to capture the central town of Konna, a trigger for France to intervene.

An estimated 380,000 people have fled northern Mali since the start of the conflict last year, according to a Jan. 29 statement from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. That includes refugees into neighboring countries including Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, as well as people displaced inside Mali, the UNHCR said.

-- Editors: Michael Shepard, Don Frederick

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