Former Dutch minister Koenders to be named U.N. Mali envoy: diplomats

Reuters News
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Posted: May 15, 2013 11:48 AM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Former Dutch development minister Gerard Koenders will be named U.N. special envoy for Mali and head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the West African country, where Islamist militants hijacked a revolt by Tuareg rebels, diplomats said on Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written to the U.N. Security Council to notify the 15 members of his intention to appoint Koenders, who is currently head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, council diplomats said.

The diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were unlikely to be any objections to Koenders, who is due to travel to New York shortly for briefings.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a mandate for a 12,600-strong peacekeeping force for Mali from July 1. The force will be supported by French troops if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.

But the creation of the force is subject to a council review of security in Mali in late June.

France, aided by some 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters, who had hijacked a revolt by the Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of Mali.

The U.N. peacekeeping force - to be known as MINUSMA - will assume authority from a U.N.-backed African force deployed there to take over from the French. Most of the African force, known as AFISMA, is likely to become part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation, diplomats say.

The new peacekeeping force will be the U.N.'s third largest, behind deployments in Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur in Sudan, and will cost up to $800 million annually, U.N. officials say.

Mali was once viewed as an example of a working democracy in Africa but its North has been a center of cross-desert trafficking of drugs, stolen goods and Western hostages. Border towns are used as transit hubs for trans-Sahara cocaine and hashish smuggling.

Koenders was the Dutch minister for development cooperation between 2007 and 2010 before he took up the role as head of the U.N. Ivory Coast mission in 2011.

Diplomats say Koenders is likely to be replaced in Ivory Coast by Aichatou Mindaoudou Souleymane of Niger, who is currently the deputy special envoy for the joint African Union and U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur.

(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Bamako; Editing by David Brunnstrom)