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Mali

UN says more troops needed to stabilize Mali

The UN has said more soldiers are needed to help stabilize Mali and combat militant groups. Recent election results have given hope for peace but violence continues to highlight the country's instability.

The UN envoy to Mali told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that forces in the country must be strengthened in the face of renewed violence by armed groups and terrorists. He called a string of recent attacks in the country a "wake up call" that the local government and international community still have work to do in stabilizing Mali's restive northern region.

"We are faced with severe challenges," Albert Koenders said of the UN force in Mali, known as MINUSMA. The international force has been in control of the country since July 1 but still has just 5,200 troops on the ground, less than half the 12,600 UN-mandated number.

"The mission lacks critical enablers – such as helicopters – to facilitate rapid deloypment and access to remote areas to ensure the protection of civilians," Koenders added. "Troop generation will have to accelerate."

Koenders said that Mali's successful presidential election this summer was a positive sign for the country's long-term future. However, recent violence, along with humanitarian issues like malnutrition, indicate there is much more work to be done, he added.

Mali in turmoil

Mali was plunged into internal conflict after a March 2012 coup. Tuareg separatist rebels initially took control of large swaths of the country's north before Islamist rebels seized the region. A French-led seven-month military campaign launched last January helped the government regain control of much of the country, but remnants of the al Qaeda-linked forces continue to operate.

Some 3,200 French soldiers remain in the country, though Paris plans to reduce that number to 1,000. However, Mali's minister for national reconciliation and development of the north urged the international community to renew their commitment for support

"We cannot lower our guard vis-à-vis the terrorist groups and jihadists so that the Malian crisis can be resolved and so that we can turn the page and move forward," said Cheick Oumar Diarrah, adding that there were also food shortages in the south were "more than 800,000 people are facing immeasurable difficulties."

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud echoed Koenders' sentiment that while Mali had taken steps forward, it still faced enormous challenges.

"It's a success story. When you look at where Mali was last year, it was a country collapsed, it was a country where the terrorists were moving towards the capital," he told reporters after Koenders' briefing. "But we have to be vigilant, we know we will face problems down the road, we know that the terrorists have not been eradicated."

UN mission suffering

The UN's MINUSMA mission suffered a setback in August after 1,200 Nigerian troops pulled out of the country to deal with their own growing Islamist insurgency. Then last month, 150 Chadian troops left in protest over time served and the pace of troop replacement.

A report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says MINUSMA still needs two infantry battalions, an airfield engineer company to rebuild airstrips in the north, an information operiations unit and a special forces company to reach its authorized strength.

dr/jm,ipj (AP, Reuters)