France aims to have Mali UN force in place by April

France is aiming to have the United Nations take over peacekeeping operations in Mali by April, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday.

Fabius told journalists France was working to have the current African-led mission put under the umbrella of the United Nations and confirmed France was planning to begin drawing back its troops in March.

He said the African-led AFISMA force already being established in Mali would be in a position to take over as a UN force.

"Once security is assured, we can certainly envisage, without changing the structures, that this takes place in the framework of a peacekeeping operation. This gives the advantage of being under the umbrella of the United Nations, under its financing," Fabius told reporters with the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris.

"This doesn't mean at all that the organisation would be modified, it would simply be under the general umbrella of the UN," he said.

Asked if that was possible by April, after French troops have started to be drawn down, Fabius said: "Yes, many of our specialists and partners are working in this perspective."

Fabius insisted the planned drawdown of the 4,000 French troops currently in Mali did mean they would entirely leave the country.

"This doesn't at all mean we are going to leave, but we could reduce the number of troops and concentrate in particular on searching for terrorists," he said.

"But what is foreseen, and this is clear... we have no intention of remaining forever in Mali. There must simply be a ramping up as quickly as possible of African troops to take our place."

Earlier France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said Paris had for the first time at the Security Council raised the perspective of sending peacekeepers to Mali.

He said it would take "several weeks" before an assessment could be made on the formal deployment of peacekeepers.