MENAKA, Mali: French Marine Special Operation Forces officers attend during a training with Mali’s FAMA soldiers as new Task Force Taruba multinationals military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled region, in the Mali’s Menaka army base. — AFP

BAMAKO: Mali has agreed to accept 1,000 UN peacekeepers from nearby Chad, following France’s move to reduce troops in its conflict-torn former colony. In a letter seen by AFP on Friday, Mali’s UN ambassasador told the Security Council that the government had agreed to “1,000 supplementary soldiers” from Chad, for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.

The agreement comes as France is reducing its deployment in the vast nation of 19 million people, after it first intervened in 2013 to beat back a jihadist insurgency. French President Emmanuel Macron announced a major troop drawdown in June, after a military takeover in Mali in August 2020 that ousted the elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Paris has already closed three bases in northern Mali this year. By next year it is set to have about 3,000 soldiers in the Sahel, down from 5,100 at the height of its deployment. Mali’s army-dominated government said Friday it had agreed to additional Chadian soldiers joining MINUSMA after the “reconfiguration” of French forces, “in order to address threats”.

Mali is the epicentre of a jihadist insurgency that began in the north of the country in 2012 and spread three years later to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso. Thousands of people across the region have died, and around two million have been displaced. Despite the presence of French and UN troops, the conflict spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

MINUSMA-the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali-began its deployment to the troubled Sahel state in 2013. It has 16,500 personnel, including 10,700 troops, according to its website. The UN says the mission has suffered the most fatalities of any of its peacekeeping operations in the world, with hostile acts causing 146 deaths as of October 31. —AFP