U.N. Security Council to back Mali peacekeepers in weeks

DUBLIN Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:15am EST

French soldiers in an armored vehicle stop for a break near the mountains north of Douentza, Mali, February 7, 2013. REUTERS/David Lewis

French soldiers in an armored vehicle stop for a break near the mountains north of Douentza, Mali, February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/David Lewis

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council is expected to reach an agreement in two to three weeks to deploy up to 6,000 peacekeepers in Mali to help stabilize the country after a rebel incursion, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.

The 15-nation council initially appeared reluctant to send its own blue-helmeted peacekeepers to the West African nation, and instead backed an African-led force that was due to deploy later this year.

But France's decision to send its own soldiers in to fight Islamist rebels in northern Mali in January rendered that plan moot, diplomats told Reuters in January.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told Reuters on Tuesday a consensus was now emerging in Security Council discussions to deploy a peacekeeping force "at the appropriate time".

"I think the Security Council will be looking at a resolution in the next two or three weeks and then we can move ahead for full deployment," Ladsous said in Dublin.

About 4,500 French troops have pushed back advances made by Islamists rebels who seized the northern two thirds of the country last year.

France said it moved in to stop the militants turning the country into a base for militant attacks across the region and beyond. It added it wanted the mission to be replaced gradually by a force with a U.N. peacekeeping mandate by April.

Ladsous said he was confident the force would be in place before then, ahead of elections on July 31, as Mali takes step toward restoring democratic government after a coup in March.

He added it still had to be decided how the peacekeepers would relate to the U.N.-backed African military force (AFISMA) which already has 3,800 troops on the ground in Mali.

The peacekeeping mission would probably be made up of around 6,000 troops, but that exact number would also depend on the final size of the African force.

Deployment of peacekeepers would require Security Council approval as well as consent from the Malian government which has so far opposed the deployment of U.N. soldiers.

The Malian government is uneasy with the presence of a peacekeeping force because of fears it would solidify a division between north and south and in time lead to the division of the country, according to a senior European government official.

"It's just a matter of persuading the Malians that a U.N. peacekeeping force is the best way to go and that Sudan was a very different situation from Mali," the diplomat said.

Sudan's south split away as an independent country in 2011 after a prolonged north-south civil war.

(Reporting by Stephen Mangan; Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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