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".
U.N. 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 that began two months ago is completed.
A heavily armed rapid-reaction force, similar to the unit proposed for a U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, would be a departure from its typically more passive peacekeeper operations.
In practical terms, U.N. 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 U.N. peacekeepers around the world.
Other recent news from Mali includes reports that not only are many Chadians becoming increasingly frustrated by the conflict in Mali, but that a Malian newspaper editor is under arrest after publishing a letter critical of Mali’s coup leader’s salary and that Malian soldiers are engaging in reprisal attacks against Tuaregs and Arabs. While it is true that French and Chadian forces have been making progress in the northeast of Mali the country that they are trying to free from the threat of Islamic militants is not looking like the stable country many would like to see.
At the moment a U.N. peacekeeping force (let alone a heavily armored one) has not been authorized. The French, who are trying to organize a withdrawal from their former colony, must deal with remaining Islamic militants in the northeast and worrying developments in the rest of Mali while diplomats debate the possibility of a U.N. peacekeeping force.