France backs proposals for UN peacekeeping force for Mali
France has put its weight behind the idea of sending a United Nations peacekeeping force into Mali.
The French military on Wednesday took control of the airport in Kidal, the last Malian town held by Islamist rebels, and is planning to hand over to a larger African force, whose task will be to root out insurgents in their desert redoubts.
Proposals for a UN peacekeeping force ran into opposition from some states before France’s intervention, but Paris hopes the idea can be resuscitated when it comes up for discussion at the security council in the coming days.
“This development is extremely positive and I want this initiative to be carried through,” French defence minister Jean Yves Le Drian said, adding that France would “obviously play its role” in any peacekeeping force.
Ground and air offensive
France has deployed some 4,500 troops in a three-week ground and air offensive aimed at breaking Islamists’ 10-month hold on towns in northern Mali. After taking back the towns of Gao and Timbuktu at the weekend, Mr Le Drian confirmed that troops were still stuck at the airport in Kidal, where sandstorms were preventing them from entering the town.
The Malian government yesterday offered Tuareg rebels talks aimed at finding a political settlement. Under pressure from Paris, Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, said he was ready to open talks with the pro-autonomy MNLA provided it dropped its claims of independence for northern Mali.
“Today, the only group that we could think of negotiating with is certainly the MNLA. But, of course, on condition that the MNLA drops any pretence to a territorial claim,” Mr Traoré said, ruling out talks with any Islamist groups. The Tuareg rebellion last year,which prompted frustrated army officers to topple the government, is blamed by many Malians for the crisis. Mr Traoré, installed in office after the military coup in March last year, has called national elections for July 31st to complete a political transition.
Some analysts suggest the conflict could be headed for a prolonged, low-level insurgency, with small groups of Islamist fighters carrying out sporadic attacks.
Four Malian soldiers were killed and five injured yesterday when their patrol vehicle hit a mine on the road between Gao and the nearby town of Gossi, in the first incident of its kind during the conflict.