UN peacekeepers begin operation in Mali

Photo: UN peacekeepers begin operation in Mali / Arab World

The United Nations on Monday launched its peacekeeping mission in Mali, integrating some 6,300 West African soldiers in its ranks, dpa reported.

The military mission's main task will be to help the interim government secure a presidential election set for July 28.

The mission is due to grow to 11,200 troops, plus 1,400 police, by the end of the year.

The deployment allows France to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to stop Islamist rebels from advancing toward capital Bamako from their northern strongholds.

France says it wants only 1,000 troops in Mali by the end of the year to provide military assistance to the UN military force.

The West African country has been under control of an interim government since a military coup toppled president Amadou Toumani Touré in April 2012.

Malian Defense Minister Yamoussa Kamara said the arrival of the UN force was "a comfort."

"Thanks to international support, Mali is in the process of ridding itself of narco-traffickers and Jihadists," he said, referring to the rebels.

Mali's election commission has expressed doubts it will be ready to hold elections on July 28 due to organizational and security challenges.

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