PARIS (Reuters) - Mauritania will send 1,800 troops to Mali as part of a planned U.N. force to keep the peace in the West African nation after a French-led offensive that has ousted Islamist rebels from the desert north, France’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
Laurent Fabius said a U.N. Security Council resolution to approve the creation of a 12,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping force from July 1 should be approved as soon as next week.
That force, expected to be made up primarily of African contingents, will take up the slack as France starts drawing down its 4,000-strong force to just 1,000 by year-end.
Mauritania, an Islamic republic which borders Mali to the west, has one of the most effective armies in the region, with experience of battling Islamist fighters in desert terrain but has so far remained aloof from the Malian conflict.
“The Mauritanian president on Monday evening told me he was ready...to send 1,800 troops to this future U.N. contingent,” Fabius told the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee in Strasbourg.
“It’s important because Mauritanians are good fighters, have a lot of experience and its geographical location is significant.”
Fabius made his comments after visiting Mauritania this week. Mauritanian officials declined to comment.
France, aided by about 2,400 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters, who had hijacked a revolt by Mali’s Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of the West African country.
Some 6,000 troops from the West African regional force MISMA are also supporting the Malian army but have barely engaged in combat.
Chad, whose soldiers are deemed the most battle-hardened in the region, said on Sunday it would also withdraw from Mali, although left open the door to return under a U.N. mandate.
France has already said its 1,000 troops would be at the disposal of the Malian government and U.N. peacekeepers to quickly respond against any future militant attacks.
“Let’s be blunt. We don’t want them coming back, so we need to take precautions,” Fabius said. “A U.N. peacekeeping force doesn’t do that so the French will be there to do that job if necessary.”
Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Michael Roddy