UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Mali's foreign minister urged the United Nations on Wednesday to consider creating a rapid intervention force to fight extremist groups in the African country's troubled north, warning that the region "once again runs the risk of becoming the destination of hordes of terrorists."
Abdoulaye Diop spoke to the U.N. Security Council via videoconference the day after a peacekeeper with the U.N. mission in Mali was killed in a rocket attack. That follows the death of nine peacekeepers in an attack on Friday, the deadliest since the mission began last year.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has called the situation "intolerable" as French troops in northern Mali draw down, leaving peacekeepers largely on their own in the rebellious region.
Ladsous told the council that the rate of attacks has increased substantially and that with the "quasi-disappearance" of Mali's forces, "we cannot face the threat alone."
Diop did not explain what he had in mind for a rapid intervention force, and the current Security Council president, Argentine Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters after closed consultations that discussions will continue and "we don't have conclusions."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on Mali last month said the country's armed forces "have largely withdrawn from the north" and control only the cities of Gao and Timbuktu. While more than 1,200 of them share bases with U.N. peacekeepers, "their weapons are stored and they rarely exit the camps."
Ban's report said U.N. peacekeepers in their 12 bases across the region are operating under extremely challenging conditions, with just four attack helicopters.
Ladsous, speaking from Mali, told reporters there on Tuesday that the peacekeeping force will be equipped with combat helicopters and drones in the next two or three months.
The U.N. has said 31 peacekeepers have now been killed, and 91 injured, since the mission was established in July 2013 to stabilize Mali's north, which fell under the control of Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a 2012 coup. As of late June, the force was comprised of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 international police.
Peace talks have begun between the Malian government and rebel Tuaregs. Ladsous on Wednesday called process in the talks slow and said "effort, credible effort, needs to be made to find compromise."
Diop, his country's lead negotiator in the talks, said Mali rejects any demand for the creation of a federation or new state inside the country.