Ban says 11,200 peacekeepers needed for Mali

UN leader Ban Ki-Moon said Tuesday that up to 11,200 troops could be needed for a peacekeeping mission in Mali but that a "parallel" military force would have to battle radical Islamists.

Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council that the 11,200 troops would only be enough to cover main towns "assessed to be at highest risk."

The UN leader added that there would be a "fundamental requirement for a parallel force" in Mali and possibly neighboring countries -- in a clear signal that France will have to maintain a strong military involvement in the conflict.

Without naming any provider, Ban said the second force would "conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the United Nations mandate and capability."

France sent troops to Mali in January to prevent an advance by Islamist forces on the capital Bamako. The Islamists and Tuareg separatists overran northern Mali one year ago, taking advantage of a vacuum left after a military coup.

Having been beaten out of Timbuktu and other Malian cities, the Islamists have now launched guerrilla operations against French, Chadian and Malian forces.

"Terrorist groups and tactics, the proliferation of weapons, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and landmines are expected to pose significant threats" in Mali, Ban warned in his report to be discussed by the Security Council on Wednesday.

France wants the 15-member council to pass a resolution in April setting up a peacekeeping force which could be in place by July. The bulk of it would come from West African troops already in Mali.

tw/sst