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UN delegation eyes Mali peacekeeping challenge up close

AFP , Sunday 2 Feb 2014
Mali
File Photo: French soldiers stand near Ivorian soldiers in Toumodi, during a military training ahead of the departure of Ivorian soldiers for Mali, April 6, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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A year after French troops sent Islamic militants scattering in Mali, a UN Security Council delegation is in the African country to weigh the challenges faced by the undermanned, African-led peacekeeping mission there.

Gerard Araud, France's top representative on the Security Council and the head of the delegation, told reporters after arrival late Saturday in the capital Bamako that the delegation was to visit through to Monday, "with the aim of backing stabilisation in the country and action".

He did not say who else was in the delegation. However, the US representative on the Security Council, Samantha Power, said on her twitter feed she was also part of it.

Power tweeted that the delegation wanted to "help support the (Malian) people as they stand up to extremists and pursue democracy".

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) took up northern Mali patrolling duties in July last year.

But the UN force is operating at half the strength recommended under its UN mandate -- just 5,539 soldiers out of the 11,200 authorised.

The French troops, which had pushed the Al-Qaeda-linked militants out of the towns early last year, were keeping up targeted counter-terrorism operations in the region against residual groups of insurgents.

Araud said the UN peacekeepers "are deployed in very difficult conditions in northern Mali, and we want to have all the necessary information".

He said the delegation backed dialogue in Mali between the government and opposing groups to find a "durable solution" to the unrest.

On Sunday, the delegation was to visit the central town on Mopti, and hold talks in Bamako with representatives from armed groups in the north and the government.

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