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UN approves military force to combat Islamist terrorists in Mali

Published time: December 21, 2012 08:59
Edited time: December 21, 2012 12:59
AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo

AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo

The UN Security Council has given the green light for the use of military force to combat Islamist terrorists in northern Mali. The Council said that the 3,300 troops will use "all necessary measures" to pacify the northern territories.

All the permanent members of the UN body unanimously voted for a year-long mandate during which the African-led peace force will attempt to oust Islamist militants entrenched in the country’s north.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants and Tuareg rebels, along with other separatists, seized control of Mali’s northern territories during a military coup in March that left a power vacuum in the country. They have since enforced hardline Muslim law in the areas under their control.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) currently has 3,300 troops on standby to be deployed in Mali, but they are not expected to be sent in until September 2013. In the meantime, the resolution approved on Thursday calls for both political reconciliation and for the training of Malian security forces.

The new Security Council measures also require the government to hold elections in April, or “as early as technically possible.”

The resolution was initially put forward by France following talks with the US, who has previously expressed doubt that the 3,300-soldier ECOWAS force would be sufficient to take on the Islamist militants in a desert battle. Both the US and EU nations concur that northern Mali must not be allowed to become a safe haven for Islamist militants.

Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly hailed the resolution as “an historic step,” while French UN ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud emphasized the “complexity” of the operation to “restore the territorial integrity of Mali and to end the terrorist activities in the north of the country.”

However, a former intelligence chief speaking on condition of anonymity told Al Jazeera that the 3,300 men would fall short of the troop levels needed to reclaim the besieged territories, and called for more extreme measures.

"If we really want to eradicate the problem, we would have to use African and Western forces and lock down the borders – you realize what a job that would be – and sweep the whole terrain," the former intelligence chief said.

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Cash flow issues

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon previously said that the UN would be unable to fund the military force, angering African leaders. With the approval of the resolution, he is now under pressure to raise money to support the initiative.

Ban also raised concerns over the deployment of the military force, stressing that it should only be done in a worst-case scenario after all political avenues had been exhausted. Though specific tactics have not yet been finalized, the resolution states that ECOWAS forces will “reduce the impact of military action upon the civilian population," and that safeguards will be introduced to prevent human rights abuses.

France urged the international community to intervene in the country’s conflict after the Malian Prime Minister was arrested and forced to resign at the beginning of December on the basis that he “doesn’t get along” with military leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the military coup in March.

Thus far, the upheaval in Mali has displaced over 400,000 people, according to UN statistics.

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