New York – The United Nations is struggling to get African troops in Mali up to UN standards to join a full-fledged peacekeeping force, a top UN official said on Wednesday.
The UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said it would be a “big challenge” for West African contingents to meet the UN norms. But he expressed confidence that a UN force would start on July 1 and take over from French forces who are battling violent extremists.
There are currently about 6 500 West African troops in Mali, where French forces intervened in January to halt an advance on the capital by fighters.
The UN must now get the African troops up to international standards for numbers, equipment and human rights training before they can be officially incorporated into the UN force, MINUSMA.
“It varies from country to country,” Ladsous told a press conference at UN headquarters. A standard UN battalion is 850 troops, but the official said some countries “are a little below.”
The troops also have to bring minimum levels of equipment on UN missions to qualify for payments and Ladsous said that for some there is still “quite a bit of work to be done”.
The UN experts are also vetting the West African troops and their commanders for their human rights training.
Chad, which has played a key role in Mali alongside France, has troubles because it is on a UN blacklist for using child troops in its army.
Ladsous said the UN would consider accepting Chadian troops but he stressed “they will have to be completely impeccable in terms of human rights” and particularly on child soldiers.
Ladsous said that up to four months would be given to contributing countries to get their contingents up to acceptable levels.
The UN Security Council has approved a force of up to 12 600 troops that should start operations on July 1.
The 15-nation council is to meet on June 25 to decide whether a guerrilla campaign by the al-Qaeda-linked extremists has died down enough for a peacekeeping force to take over from French troops who have already started withdrawing.
The UN is looking for troops from other nations and diplomats said that China has offered between 500 and 600 troops for MINUSMA.
“Of course, some work still needs be done to be sure that all the troops operating as blue helmets will be up to UN standards but I am confident this will take place in a satisfactory way,” Ladsous said.