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Extremism

France asks UN to take over Mali mission by April

France has called for a UN force to replace the African-led military mission in Mali by April. Also, the French defense minister announced that troops would pursue the Islamist militants who had fought them Tuesday.

On Wednesday, France called on the Security Council to send peacekeepers and speed up the deployment of rights observers. However, French Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said it would take weeks to assess whether troops now battling Islamist guerrillas could hand the country over to peacekeepers.

"France, for the first time at the Security Council, raised the perspective of the creation of a peacekeeping operation when security conditions permit it," Araud said.

Mali will have to request the UN deployment, though Araud said that there are "different views" there about the presence of an international force. French President Francois Hollande has already said his forces could start to pull out in March.

"From the moment that security is assured, we can envisage without changing the structures that it can be placed under the framework of UN peacekeeping operations," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

‘Residual jihadist groups'

Meanwhile, within Mali, Wednesday saw more fighting in Gao, a city previously thought to have been secured in the intervention.

"There were clashes yesterday around Gao," French Defence Minsiter Jean-Yves Le Le Drian said. "Once our troops, supported by Malian forces, started patrols around the towns that we have taken, they met residual jihadist groups who are still fighting."

"We will go after them," Le Drian added. "We are securing the towns we have been able to take along with the Malian forces."

On Tuesday, Le Drian announced that forces had killed several hundred militants through airstrikes and direct combat since the military intervention began on January 11.

Almost 4,000 French troops are currently deployed in Mali. Most recently, forces secured the town of Kidal after driving out al Qaeda-linked militants, the French Defense Ministry announced.

mkg/jr (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)