Special forces requested for Mali UN mission

France's allies want armed forces involved in UN peace keeping mission in Mali.

A picture taken on April 24, 2012 shows Islamists rebels of Ansar Dine near Timbuktu, in rebel-held northern Mali. Picture: AFP

PARIS/UNITED NATIONS - France and its African allies want a heavily-armed force able to counter any resurgent Islamist threat in Mali as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, diplomats said.

The United Nations is considering setting up a 10,000-strong force in the former French colony before presidential and legislative elections in July, a deadline a European diplomat described on Tuesday as "a race against time".

UN deputy peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet is in the Malian capital Bamako this week to assess options for a peacekeeping mission once a French-led military intervention is completed.

France launched a ground and air operation in January to break Islamist rebels' hold on northern Mali, saying militants posed a risk to the security of West Africa and Europe.

In a reminder of the resistance still faced, Chad said on Tuesday one soldier had been killed and another injured, bringing to 29 the number of Chadian troops lost in battle. Six Islamists had been killed and five captured, the army said.

The proposed heavily armed rapid-reaction force, similar to the unit proposed for a UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, would be a departure from its typically more passive peacekeeper operations.

In practical terms, UN diplomats say, troops in the rapid-response force would have more freedom to open fire without being required to wait until they are attacked first, a limitation usually placed on UN peacekeepers around the world.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to deliver a report to the Security Council with peacekeeping recommendations for Mali by the end of the month, and diplomats hope a vote can take place by mid-April.