UN will support Mali elections on July 28

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations is supporting the organization of elections in Mali on July 28 which will now take place throughout the country, including the key northern city of Kidal which was occupied by Tuareg separatists for 16 months, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Wednesday.

Herve Ladsous told a group of reporters that the new U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali will also be helping to provide security for the presidential election.

Ladsous just returned from Mali where he attended the July 1 transfer of peacekeeping duties from a 6,200-member African-led mission to the United Nations.

All 6,200 soldiers from the African force are now part of the U.N. force, known as MINUSMA, and Ladsous expressed hope that it will reach its authorized strength of 11,200 troops by the end of the year.

There had been a question of whether Chadian troops in the African force would be included in MINUSMA because Chad has used child soldiers. A senior U.N. official said all the Chadians — considered the best desert fighters — had been checked and met the age requirement so they were included in the U.N. force.

Kidal, like the rest of northern Mali, fell to a mixture of rebel groups following a March 2012 coup. It had remained in rebel hands over the past six months, even after French forces launched a military intervention to free northern Mali from the fighters and succeeded in liberating all of the other major towns.

Tuareg rebels re-entered Kidal in February and March of this year, erecting roadblocks, levying taxes and creating a de facto Tuareg state. But after intense international wrangling, they signed an agreement last month, which paved the way for the return of Mali’s military on Friday. However, some Tuaregs remain committed to seeking an independent state and disagreed with the accord that allowed the soldiers to come back.

U.N. peacekeeping troops are already deployed in Kidal, along with Malian soldiers, the senior U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the deployment have not been made public.

The official said the region’s governor is scheduled to go to Kidal on Thursday to re-establish the government’s administration of the city.

By the time Malians go to the polls to vote on July 28, the official said the U.N. hopes to have five international police units — each with between 100 and 120 officers — on the ground to help with security.

As for beefing up MINUSMA, the official said the U.N. is in discussions with Burundi, Rwanda, China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and several Latin American countries about supplying additional troops. China will be supplying a field hospital, an engineering unit and a “force protection unit” which will be its first combat unit in a U.N. peacekeeping operation, the official said.

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