U.N. chief appoints former Dutch minister to head Mali mission

UNITED NATIONS Fri May 17, 2013 1:44pm EDT

Helmets belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian army are seen as part of preparations for deployment to Mali, at the Nigerian Army peacekeeping centre in Jaji, near Kaduna January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Helmets belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian army are seen as part of preparations for deployment to Mali, at the Nigerian Army peacekeeping centre in Jaji, near Kaduna January 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday appointed former Dutch development minister Albert Gerard Koenders as U.N. special envoy for Mali and head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the West African country.

Ban said Aichatou Mindaoudou Souleymane of Niger would replace Koenders as head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast. Souleymane is currently deputy envoy for the African Union and U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

Koenders was the Dutch minister for development cooperation between 2007 and 2010 before he took up the Ivory Coast role in 2011.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a mandate for a 12,600-troop peacekeeping force for Mali from July 1. The force will be supported by French troops if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.

But the creation of the force is subject to a council review of security in Mali next month.

France, aided by 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters who hijacked a revolt by the Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of Mali.

The U.N. peacekeeping force - to be known as MINUSMA - will assume authority from a U.N.-backed African force deployed there to take over from the French. Most of the African force is likely to become part of the U.N. force, diplomats say.

The new peacekeeping force will be the United Nations' third-largest, behind deployments in Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur in Sudan, and will cost up to $800 million annually, officials say.

Mali was once viewed as an example of a working democracy in Africa but its North has been a center of cross-desert trafficking of drugs, stolen goods and Western hostages. Border towns are hubs for trans-Sahara cocaine and hashish smuggling.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols)

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