UNITED NATIONS - UN peacekeepers will start operations in Mali on July 1 after the UN Security Council gave the green light on Tuesday for the mission, which will be the world body's third largest when fully deployed by the end of this year, envoys and officials said.
The 15-member Security Council unanimously approved in April a mandate for the 12,600-member force, to be known as MINUSMA, but its deployment had been subject to a council review on Tuesday of Mali's security situation. French troops will support the peacekeepers if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.
"There was unanimous agreement by Security Council members that we should move to the next phase of Mali's recovery with the deployment of MINUSMA from July 1," said British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the council for June.
France, aided by 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters who hijacked a revolt by the Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of Mali. UN officials and diplomats say that the Chadians proved to be an extremely effective fighting force in Mali.
The UN peacekeeping force will assume authority from a UN-backed African force already deployed there to take over from the French. Most of the African force will become part of the UN force, UN officials and diplomats say.