United Nations soldiers will take over from African troops in conflict-scarred Mali from Monday, making up the organisation’s third-largest peacekeeping force by the end of the year.
A 12,600-strong force will take over security duties from French troops who entered Mali in January to halt an Islamist advance and help the government re-establish its authority over the vast country.
France is winding down its deployment from its peak of nearly 4,500 but is to keep up to 1,000 troops in Mali and they will maintain responsibility for military strikes against the Islamists.
“Security conditions are satisfactory, no major attack has been recorded against the Malian and African forces, and most important, despite what certain people feared, the political process has experienced a very positive evolution,” France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud said, welcoming the handover.
Rwandan General Jean-Bosco Kazura, formerly second in command of African Union troops in Sudan’s western Darfur region, will lead the force.
The majority of his soldiers will be Africans already stationed in Mali but China has offered to supply more than 500 troops in what would be its biggest contribution to UN peacekeeping.