Chadian soldiers patrol the streets of Gao, in northern Mali. France has circulated a draft proposal that would allow a UN peacekeeping force to stabilise Mali's troubled northern region.

New York -

France has circulated a draft United Nations resolution that would authorise a UN peacekeeping force to stabilise key towns in northern Mali and help promote a return to democracy and extend government authority throughout the conflict-wracked country.

Mali was plunged into turmoil after a coup in March 2012 created a security vacuum. That allowed secular rebel Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by Mali's government, to take half of the north as a new homeland. But months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists who imposed strict sharia law in the north, including amputations for theft.

France launched a military operation January 11 against the Islamic extremists, many linked to al-Qaeda, after they suddenly started moving south into government-controlled areas and captured key towns. Backed by Chadian soldiers, French troops ousted the radical Islamic fighters from the major towns in northern Mali, though many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.

The new draft resolution, obtained on Monday by The Associated Press, would authorise French troops to intervene to support UN troops “under imminent and serious threat”, and at the request of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It makes no mention of counter-terrorism operations, currently being carried out by France, which is likely to continue doing so under an agreement with the Malian government.

The draft would authorise a UN force comprising 11 200 military personnel and 1 440 international police to take over from a 6 000-member African-led mission now in Mali on July 1. But it says the UN Security Council could delay the transfer if terrorists pose a major threat in areas where the UN troops would operate or if international military forces are conducting major combat operations in those areas.

Chadian President Idriss Deby announced on Monday that his 2 000 troops - considered the best desert fighters - would not be sticking around for a protracted guerrilla war with the radical Islamic insurgents. But he didn't rule out a Chadian contribution to the UN peacekeeping force.

The mandate of the UN force, as spelled out in the draft resolution, does not involving going after insurgents.

It would authorise UN troops to “use all necessary means” to “stabilise the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali and ... to prevent and deter a return of armed elements to those areas”, to re-establish government authority throughout the country, and to protect civilians threatened by violence.

It would also authorise the UN force to support the transitional government's road map “towards the full restoration of constitutional order and national unity in Mali”, including by promoting a national political dialogue and supporting the organisation and conduct of presidential elections scheduled for July 7 and legislative elections scheduled for July 21. - Sapa-AFP