UN plans new peacekeeping force for Mali

January 31, 2013 - 9:31 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council will consider plans to deploy a new U.N. peacekeeping force to Mali to help pacify the northern part of the West African country following France's ejection of hard-line Islamists from the cities there, a senior diplomat said Thursday.

The Security Council last month passed a resolution approving a multinational African force to help stabilize 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 U.N. peacekeeping force for Mali instead, the senior Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity 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 U.N. peacekeeping force would be a positive development, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday on France-Inter radio.

"The evolution announced by the U.N. 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 program assigned to the U.N. peacekeepers, the diplomat said.

The United States, Britain and France favor the U.N. 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 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 Jan. 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 described how they saw soldiers dump the bodies of several people into a well, Amnesty said.

Last week, a witness told The Associated Press that Malian soldiers killed people accused of ties to radical Islamists at a Sevare bus stop on Jan 10. The soldiers then put the victims in two nearby wells, poured gasoline in and set the bodies ablaze, the witness said.

Amnesty also said that Islamist armed groups have carried out summary executions, five injured Malian soldiers and a civilian in the town of Diabaly between Jan. 14-15. The Islamists have forcibly recruited child soldiers as young as 10-years-old, Amnesty said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch reported on Thursday evening that Malian government forces summarily executed at least 13 suspected Islamist supporters and forcibly disappeared 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.

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Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley contributed to this story from Paris.