Mali Conflict: France Backs Possible UN Peace Force

Mali Conflict: France Backs Possible UN Peace Force

France's defence minister has said he backs the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Mali.

Mali Conflict: France Backs Possible UN Peace Force

Jean-Yves Le Drian's comments come as the French troops continue to secure the most northerly town of Kidal.

France has deployed some 4,500 troops during the three-week offensive against militant Islamists in the north of Mali - an area the size of France.

But is now preparing to hand over the towns it has captured to an African force, expected to number 7,700.

So far about 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, are thought to be on the ground in Mali.

Envoys believe it would easier to monitor and prevent human rights abuses if the UN could pick and choose which national contingents to use, he says.

Officials in Kidal say French troops are now patrolling the town and had met no resistance.

Earlier, Mr Le Drian said a sandstorm had delayed the troops from leaving the airport and entering the town.

"They took the airport and then entered the town, and there was no combat. The French are patrolling the town and two helicopters are patrolling overhead," Haminy Maiga, who heads the regional assembly in Kidal, said.

Correspondents say the bigger problem is how to manage the concerns of the separatist Tuareg fighters in Kidal.

Chad's army is full of experienced desert fighters needed to fight the militants The secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said its fighters would support the French but would not allow the return of the Malian army, which it accused of "crimes against the civilian population".

Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of targeting ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians.

The Tuareg rebels launched the insurgency in October 2011 before breaking away from the Islamist militants.

The Islamist fighters extended their control of the vast north of Mali in April 2012, in the wake of a military coup.

An MNLA spokesman told the BBC that its fighters had entered Kidal on Saturday and found no Islamist militants there.Kidal was until recently under the control of the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which has strong ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA), which recently split from Ansar Dine, had said that it was in control of Kidal.

The IMA, which has Tuareg fighters amongst its members, has also said it rejects "extremism and terrorism" and wants a peaceful solution.

France - the former colonial power in Mali - launched a military operation this month after the Islamist militants appeared to be threatening the south.

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