The United Nations Security Council will consider plans to deploy a new peacekeeping force to Mali to help pacify the northern part of the West African country following France's ejection of hardline Islamists from its cities, a senior diplomat says.
The security council passed a resolution last month approving a multinational African force to help stabilise Mali. But with the Islamist forces in retreat, that plan has been overtaken by events on the ground.
Instead, the security council will discuss a regular UN peacekeeping force for Mali, the Western diplomat said, speaking anonymously because the plans were in an early phase of discussion. The force would probably be composed of 3,000 to 5,000 peacekeepers, the diplomat said.
A UN peacekeeping force would be a positive development, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France-Inter radio. "The evolution announced by the UN would be a very positive evolution, and I want this initiative to be carried out," he said. "France will play its role of course."
French troops might still be needed to stay on for a while as a rapid-reaction strike force, with more aggressive duties in comparison to the pacification programme assigned to the UN peacekeepers, the diplomat said.
The United States, Britain and France favour the UN peacekeeping force approach. The change in plans would require a new security council resolution.
The peacekeeping plans are being discussed amid allegations from human rights groups that Mali's army has carried out summary executions and other abuses as they confront the Islamic extremists.
London-based Amnesty International said on Thursday that it had found evidence during a 10-day investigation of atrocities committed by both the Malian army and the Islamic insurgents. An Amnesty delegation documented that on January 10, on the eve of French intervention, the Malian army arrested and killed more than two dozen civilians, mainly in the northern city of Sevare. Witnesses said they saw soldiers dump the bodies of several people into a well, Amnesty said.
Last week, a witness said Malian soldiers killed people accused of ties to radical Islamists at a Sevare bus stop on January 10. The soldiers then put the victims in two nearby wells, poured petrol in and set the bodies on fire, the witness said. Amnesty also said that Islamist armed groups had carried out summary executions and had forcibly recruited child soldiers as young as 10.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said last night Malian government forces summarily executed at least 13 suspected Islamist supporters and forcibly removed five others from the garrison town of Sevare and in Konna in January. It said Islamist armed groups in Konna executed at least seven Malian soldiers, five of whom were wounded, and used children as soldiers in combat.