Urging tougher stance, U.N. adds 2,500 peacekeepers to Mali

UN peacekeepers patrol in the northern town of Kouroume, Mali May 13, 2015. Kourome is 18 km (11 miles) south of Timbuktu. REUTERS/Adama Diarra (Reuters)

By Louis Charbonneau UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council agreed on Wednesday to add just over 2,500 peacekeepers to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, which has been hit by a series of deadly attacks and has become the deadliest place to serve for U.N. peacekeepers. The French-drafted resolution, which was approved unanimously by the 15-nation council, said the Mali peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) should "take all necessary means to carry out its mandate ... (and) to move to a more proactive and robust posture." The increase will bring the force's maximum size to 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 police. A peace deal signed last year by Mali's government and various separatist groups has failed to prevent periodic violence in northern Mali by Islamist militants, who have also staged assaults on high profile targets in the capital Bamako, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, council president this month, said implementation of that peace agreement was now one of MINUSMA's strategic priorities, along with taking a tougher stance to protect civilians in the face of a "resilient terrorist threat." Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed an attack on two U.N. sites in northern Mali at the end of last month, in which a peacekeeper from China and three civilians were killed and over a dozen others wounded. Delattre said that "highly specialized European contingents" - including special forces and intelligence experts - would be among the additional forces sent to Mali. French forces intervened in 2013 to drive back Islamist fighters who had hijacked the Tuareg uprising to seize Mali's desert north in 2012. But it has since proved difficult to prevent Islamists staging deadly attacks. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was then deployed. But the militants have since reorganized and launched a wave of attacks against security forces, peacekeepers and civilian targets and have threatened neighboring countries. According to the U.N., 101 peacekeepers have been killed since MINUSMA deployed. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Frances Kerry)