— The U.N. Security Council held initial discussions Wednesday about options for a peacekeeping force in Mali after France withdraws its troops.
In January, Malian authorities asked France to intervene to stop Islamist militants who had taken over the north of the country from seizing the southern capital, Bamako. France’s military operation is expected to wind down soon and the United Nations is planning for the next phase in stabilizing the Sahel country.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a report to the 15-nation Security Council with two possible options for forces in Mali.
French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters Wednesday that the council began preliminary discussions on the U.N. chief's recommendations.
“I think coming out of this meeting, I think there’s a sort of, on one side, the consensus of the idea of going towards a peacekeeping operation, a stabilization operation, in Mali. But there are a lot of questions of course, and legitimate questions, so we will have to discuss it," he said.
The secretary-general proposed two options for Mali in his report. In the first option, things remain largely the same, with the African-led stabilization force known as AFISMA, currently at around 7,000 troops, remaining in the country, but becoming linked to the U.N. and getting the funding for its mission from the U.N. budget.
The second option, which diplomats say is the more likely path, would be to transition most of the AFISMA troops into a U.N. peacekeeping force while increasing its troop numbers to about 11,200. Alongside it a parallel force would be created to conduct counter-terrorism operations.
Diplomats say France is the most obvious choice to supply troops for the parallel force, but Ambassador Araud said it is still too early in discussions to say whether or how France might contribute to such a force.
He did say France would begin drawing down its 4,000 troops in the coming days. “We are downsizing our forces, and as I have said, we are not going to rush out, but we want to leave as quickly as possible," he said.
France will take the lead inside the Security Council in drafting the resolution on establishing the U.N. mission. The ambassador said the council will meet again next Tuesday (April 2) for a more in-depth discussion and he hopes a vote can be held sometime in April.