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UN to deploy military forces in Mali

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended "offensive military operations" in Mali.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Picture: The United Nations.

UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.

Diplomats and UN officials say that peace enforcement missions allow the use of lethal force in serious combat situations, while peacekeeping operations are intended to support and monitor an already existing ceasefire.

The last UN-led peace enforcement mission approved by the 15-nation Security Council was in Somalia in the early 1990s when 18 US troops were killed in the "Black Hawk Down" incident, an event that led to US withdrawal of combat troops from UN-commanded peacekeeping operations.

Ban's cautiously worded recommendation made clear that the world body is still wary of getting back into the peace-enforcement business. He said that the council should ensure that political, human rights, training and operational benchmarks be met before any military offensive commences.

As planning for the mission continues, Ban said the 15-nation council could "authorize member states of the African Union to establish AFISMA for an initial period of one year, comprising 3,300 (international) personnel to take all necessary measures to assist the Malian authorities."

AFISMA is the proposed acronym for the UN-mandated African force in Mali.

"Fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered," Ban said. "Plans for both the international force and the Malian security and defence forces need to be developed further."

One Security Council diplomat was furious at Ban's recommendation against granting the AU request for UN funding for the operation, which UN diplomats estimate will cost $300 million to $500 million.

"I think it's quite insulting to a number of countries, in particular to some AU countries," a Security Council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"It might have an impact on the UN's image," the diplomat said. "The UN considered an AU request as questionable. This is unprecedented. This is a matter of peace and security in the region."

Ban suggested that the funding for the initial military combat operations could be through "voluntary or bilateral contributions" - which diplomats said meant European Union member states would be asked to cover costs.