Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, has proposed an 11,200-strong peacekeeping force in Mali.
The force, proposed by Ban on Tuesday, would work alongside non-UN forces to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations as one option to maintain security after French forces leave the West African nation.
“Although the extremists and criminal elements have been dealt a heavy blow, they continue to pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the civilian population and any United Nations personnel deployed in Mali”, the UN chief said in a report to the Security Council.
Ban said the option would give the African-led force in Mali, AFISMA, a combat role and expand the UN political mission.
The United Nations would work with the African Union and others to rapidly build up and improve the operational capabilities of the African force.
Another option presented by Ban, would be to strengthen the UN’s new political mission in Mali and give the African-led force in Mali known as AFISMA, responsibility for security and offencive combat operations, in advance of a UN stabilisation mission.
The secretary-general rejected a request from Malians as well as the African Union and West African regional group for a UN force to undertake combat operations against armed groups saying this falls well outside the UN peacekeeping doctrine and peacekeepers are not trained or equipped for fighting in the deserts and mountains of northern Mali.
Fighters attacked Gao, the largest town in the north, over the weekend. It was the third major offencive there by the fighters since the town was retaken by a French-led military operation in late January.
The secretary-general said the political process in Mali is lagging “dangerously behind the military effort” and he called for a national dialogue to be convened without delay.
He said the worrying human rights situation also needs immediate action, citing reports in the north of summary executions, illegal arrests, use of children by armed groups, rape, forced marriage and the destruction and looting of property.
The Security Council was due to be briefed on Wednesday on Ban’s recommendations and diplomats hope a vote to approve the peacekeeping force can take place by mid-April.
France launched a military operation January 11 against the armed groups after they suddenly started moving south into
government-controlled areas and captured key towns.
Backed by Chadiansoldiers, French troops ousted the fighters from the major towns in northern Mali, though many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.
France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, has said it has no intention of keeping its 4,000 troops in Mali for the long term and plans a gradual pullout starting in April.