Mali has asked the United Nations to send a rapid-reaction force to help end a wave of attacks on UN peacekeepers in the north, where rebel fighters are back on the warpath.

Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that it must take "urgent measures" to bolster the UN mission in the north, after 31 peacekeepers died in a string of brazen assaults.

The UN mission known as MINUSMA must have the "appropriate means to fulfill its mandate, protect civilians and the blue helmets who are paying a high price on the ground," Diop told AFP news agency by video link from Bamako.

"Perhaps the council should consider setting up a rapid intervention force that would be able to fight the terrorist elements," he said.

Such a force set up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, pairing government soldiers with UN troops, managed to beat back some of the myriad groups of rebels roaming the east.

The appeal for more robust action in northern Mali came amid some of the deadliest violence to target a UN peace mission in recent years.

A Senegalese soldier was killed on Tuesday when a UN camp in Kidal came under rocket fire, just days after nine troops from Niger died in an ambush by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

In September alone, ten Chadian soldiers were killed by explosive devices, prompting the government in Ndjamena to complain that its troops were being used as "shields" to protect other UN deployments in northern Mali.

In all, 31 peacekeepers have died in attacks since the mission was deployed in July 2013 and 66 others have been wounded, according to UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.

Range of threats

After the deadliest single attack that left nine Niger troops dead, Ladsous traveled to Mali to attend a ceremony honouring their sacrifice and to beef up MINUSMA.

"We are working very actively on a number of measures designed to harden the protection of our bases, our equipment, our people," Ladsous told the council.

Diplomats said Ladsous detailed during close-door consultations a series of measures taken to buttress the mission including the deployment of attack helicopters, drones and more armored personnel carriers.

Discussions focused also on more robust rules of engagement for the UN force, diplomats said.

Ladsous said MINUSMA had become a "target" for rebel fighters and drug traffickers in northern Mali, after France downsized its troop presence there and the Mali government failed to send troops.

Rebel groups occupied the desert north of Mali for ten months before they were ousted by a French-led military intervention in January 2013.

The United Nations Multi-Dimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) force took over from an African-led mission in July last year, with some 9,300 troops and police drawn from around 30 countries.

The upsurge in violence coincides with stalled peace talks brokered by Algeria between the Mali government and six armed groups despite agreement on a road map to end the violence.

Source: AFP