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French defense minister visits Mali

GAO, Mali — France’s defense minister reaffirmed ­Friday that his country will keep 1,000 of its troops in Mali to fight radical Islamist militants even after the arrival later this year of more than 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers.

In a visit to the volatile northeastern city of Gao, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian addressed reporters a day after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the peacekeeping force.

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‘‘From now on we are in the postwar phase. The UN resolution adopted yesterday will allow for the arrival of a force to stabilize the country,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘But France will keep about 1,000 soldiers to carry on with military operations.’’

Some Malians are questioning how successful the United Nations peacekeeping mission to their country will be given its limited mandate and the volatile mix of armed groups across the north.

The UN force is tasked with helping to restore peace after a French-led military operation was launched in January to dislodge radical Islamist fighters who had seized control of the country’s vast north.

However, the UN peacekeepers will not be authorized to launch offensive military operations or chase terrorists in the desert, which French forces will continue to do, although France is aiming to downscale its presence in its former colony by year’s end.

Daouda Sangare, an entrepreneur in Bamako, questioned how much the peacekeepers would do to protect civilians because of their limited mandate.

Other UN peacekeepers in Africa have been accused of failing to protect local populations from attack, he said.

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