Mali still precarious - UN

Armed groups in Mali continue to pose a security threat while troops are not yet fully equipped.

Armed groups in Mali continue to pose a security threat while troops are not yet fully equipped.  Picture: AFP

UNITED NATIONS - Armed groups in Mali continue to pose a serious security threat to the entire region while African troops forming the core of a UN peacekeeping mission deploying next month are not yet properly equipped, the UN chief said in a new report.

France launched a massive military campaign in January which broke al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters' control over the northern two-thirds of Mali and allowed the Tuaregs to regain control of their traditional fiefdom of Kidal.

But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council on Saturday that despite the gains made by French troops, Malian security forces and an African force known as AFISMA, the situation continues to be precarious.

"The situation on the ground remains ... fluid, with sporadic clashes between armed groups and continued asymmetric attacks across the three regions of the north," Ban said in the report, obtained by Reuters.

"Furthermore the advance of the MDSF (Malian defence and security forces) northwards towards Kidal and the fatal clashes with MNLA (separatist Tuareg) elements on 5 June have exacerbated tensions and increased the volatility of the situation in the region," it said.

To reduce those renewed tensions, Mali's government and Tuareg separatists began talks on Saturday that both sides said they hoped would lead to a ceasefire ahead of national elections next month and pave the way for a permanent peace deal.

The talks in the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, due to conclude on Monday, follow the first fighting in months between Mali's army and the MNLA rebels this week as government forces advanced toward the Tuaregs' last stronghold of Kidal in the remote northeast.

Once the UN peacekeeping force, to be known as MINUSMA, is deployed, France will continue to handle counterterrorism and peace enforcement operations as needed in Mali, while the UN blue helmets will handle traditional peacekeeping duties of policing and trying to ensure new violence does not erupt.

In April, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a mandate for the 12,600-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force from 1 July. The force will be supported by French troops if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.

Deployment of the force will be subject to a council review of security in Mali in late June.