(Photo: UN Multimedia)
France has asked the UN to take rover the command of forces in Mali as Paris prepares to start pulling its troops out next month. French and Malian troops have seized major towns in the north of the country from Islamist rebels but many roads remain closed or unusable for fear of attacks or landmines.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said this week that the withdrawal should start next month, as part of a handover to the west African force in Mali, Afisma.
"It would make sense simply to put these African troops under UN command, if the countries who are contributing troops agree to do it, of course," France's ambassador to the UN Gérard Araud said Wednesday.
He conceded that some countries might object but said the force should be a UN peacekeeping force, "which will answer to the UN security council other like any UN peacekeeping force".
The UN Security Council has "no objections" to the idea, he said.
Mali's interim government has opposed the idea, according to UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous, but he said that the African Union, the Ecowas regional grouping and key UN members were in favour.
Benin's President Thomas Boni Yaya hailed France's "leadership" in Mali on a visit to Paris Wednesday.
"A whole continent, the African continent, is glad of it," he said, judging it reasonable that France should withdraw when Afisma is in place.
The intervention has cost France 70 million euros, so far, according to the defence ministry, and is rising by 2.7 million euros a day.
One of the Al Qaida-linked Islamist groups, Mujao, swore it would carry on fighting on Thursday.
"The combat isn't over. The attacks are going to continue," a representative told the AFP news agency.
Security has been beefed up in the main city, Gao, with large patrols by French, Malian and Nigerien troops.
French helicopters have been patrolling the road between Gao and Douentza, 400 kilometres to the south-west along the road to Bamako, and the area is littered with land mines and improvised explosive devices, according to security sources.
In Douentza itself the Malian army advises residents not to leave town and the road to Mopti, further down the road to Bamako, is closed.
"We can't get to Mopti," a resident told RFI. "We don't have any banks here in Douentza ... for the moment we're living off cereals we have grown ourselves but if it lasts any longer it will be catastrophic."
The Tuareg separatist movement MNLA, which initially formed an alliance with the Islamists to seize the north but switched sides when the French advanced north, says it has taken over towns that the army captured but then left.
Some local officials, including Bajan Ag Hamadou, the mayor of one of the towns, Menada, called on the military to reestablish control.