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France asks UN to help Sahel force but at no cost

AFP logoAFP 11/30/2017
Dutch soldiers of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali, seen Thursday at their base in the city of Gao © Provided by AFP Dutch soldiers of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali, seen Thursday at their base in the city of Gao

France is asking the Security Council to allow the UN mission in Mali to support the struggling African force fighting jihadists in the Sahel region, but at no extra cost to the United Nations, according to a draft resolution seen by AFP on Thursday.

The United States has pledged up to $60 million to the five-nation force but has resisted appeals from France and African leaders to allow the United Nations to shore up the military operations.

The draft resolution, which could be voted on as early as next week, specifies that MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, would provide fuel, water, rations and other services to the Sahel force that would be repaid in full.

MINUSMA would provide medical evacuation services and engineering units to help prepare the Sahel force in Mali known as the G5 -- with troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The logistical support would be "subject to full financial compensation to the United Nations," according to the draft resolution presented to the 15 council members.

France has clashed with the United States over international support for the Sahel force.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told a council meeting last month that the peacekeeping mission in Mali was already overstretched. She raised "serious" reservations about "using UN resources to support non-UN activity."

Asked about the French draft resolution, a US mission spokesperson declined to comment, saying negotiations were ongoing.

- Slow deployment -

The French request to the Security Council came as President Emmanuel Macron complained about the sluggish deployment of the G5 force and said it needed more troops and military means.

Macron has called an international meeting in Paris on December 13 to build support for the force because "terrorists have scored military and symbolic victories, notably in Niger."

"It is urgent to reverse this trend," he said.

In early October, four US soldiers and five Nigerien troops were killed by militants with suspected links to the Islamic State group in an ambush of a joint US-Niger patrol near the Niger-Mali border.

The European Union has pledged 50 million euros ($59.5 million) to the force, while the five countries involved have given 10 million each, but the pledges fall well short of the 250 million euros said to be needed to get the force up and running.

Saudi Arabia may make a contribution at France's urging, the French presidency said earlier this month.

The vast Sahel region -- roughly the size of India -- has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists took over northern Mali in 2012 and the Boko Haram group became active in northern Nigeria.

Washington's reluctance to lend UN logistical support for the Sahel force comes after the US administration negotiated a $600-million cut to the UN peacekeeping budget this year.

The United States is the UN's leading financial contributor.

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