UNITED NATIONS — Despite qualms about embroiling peacekeeping troops in the global fight against Islamist extremists, the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday to establish a force for Mali, where militants controlled much of the north until France intervened in January.
The U.N. force, to be composed of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers, is due to deploy July 1 to stabilize the nation, on the condition that the fight between the French-led troops, who are supporting the Malian government, and the retreating militants remains low-key.
“We know it is going to be a fairly volatile environment,” Herve Ladsous, the head of peacekeeping for the United Nations, said after the 15-0 vote in the Council.
The resolution specifies that French troops, which deployed in January to push the Islamist militants out of the north, will intervene again should the peacekeeping forces face an “imminent and serious threat.”
Russia expressed concerns that the U.N. blue helmets, as the peacekeeping soldiers are known because of their distinctive head gear, are moving away from their traditional role of monitoring cease-fires to more aggressive tasks.
“We are especially alarmed by the growing shift towards the force aspects of U.N. peacekeeping,” Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian envoy, told the council, referring to a rapid-reaction force already approved to go on the offensive in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “What was the exception before now risks becoming the standard practice.”
Involving peacekeeping troops in a civil war would have “unpredictable and unclear consequences” for the safety of all U.N. personnel, he said.
The mandate for the force, called the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, says it will be deployed to help establish stability and, along with a European training mission, to resurrect the Malian armed forces. That would allow a political dialogue between various factions to proceed and the government in Bamako to re-establish its authority throughout the country.
The north has long been home to a Tuareg separatist movement. But Islamist militants, fueled by men and materiel flowing into Mali from Libya after the government of Moammar Gadhafi collapsed, captured much of the north early last year. A military coup in Bamako compounded Mali’s problems, toppling a democracy and creating a chaos the militants could exploit.
The separatists made a bold push in January toward Bamako, the capital, but the French military intervention drove them out of the main cities and into retreat in the desert.
“Small cells of armed terrorists and rebels continue to represent a threat to stability,” Tieman Coulibaly, Mali’s foreign minister, told the council Thursday.
Mali’s requests for foreign intervention in recent months have won over governments skeptical about sending peacekeeping forces.