United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon. File picture: Lars Krabbe

New York -

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday extended for another year the UN mission in Mali, calling on it to prioritise efforts to facilitate peace talks and expand its presence in the north.

The maximum level of peacekeepers will remain the same, at 11 200 soldiers and 1 440 police, as will the arrangement under which French soldiers in Mali can lend a hand in cases of serious and imminent danger.

According to the resolution, the UN mission, known as MINUSMA, should “expand its presence, including through long-range patrols... in the north of Mali beyond key population centres, notably in areas where civilians are at risk”.

The operation should also make it a priority to get negotiations started between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels in the north.

A ceasefire was agreed on May 23 after violent clashes in Kidal, but talks have failed to materialise.

The UN resolution urged “Malian authorities to launch without delay an inclusive and credible negotiation process”, and called on all the armed groups to put down their weapons.

MINUSMA, the council said, should “co-ordinate with and support the Malian authorities” to get the talks going, ensuring it is “open to all communities of the north of Mali”.

The resolution also tasked the mission with protecting UN personnel and installations, and safeguarding Malian cultural sites.

The council asked the UN “to take the necessary steps to enable MINUSMA to reach its full operational capacity as soon as possible” and for member states to supply the necessary manpower and materials.

In his last report on Mali, UN leader Ban Ki-moon lamented a lack of helicopters.

In the coming months, the mission is meant to be equipped with surveillance drones, with the first arriving as early as the end of the year.

UN peacekeepers took over security duties from African troops in Mali in July 2013, with a mission to ensure stability in the conflict-scarred nation after groups linked to al-Qaeda occupied much of the north of the country.

According to the UN peacekeeping office, there are currently 8 280 soldiers and 980 police officers deployed, or just under three quarters of the authorised numbers.

Nearly all of the soldiers and police - 93 percent - are already deployed in the north.

Civilian experts are then due to be sent there to help with reconciliation, ensuring respect for human rights, and to help organise local elections.

The civilians should start arriving in the fall.

The resolution “recalls the importance of the peace process based on the Ouagadougou accord” in June 2013 between Bamako and Tuareg rebels, and the May 23 ceasefire agreement, said France's UN envoy Gerard Araud. - Sapa-AFP