PARIS French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday backed the idea of sending a United Nations peacekeeping force into Mali, saying France would play a role in any such plan.
The U.N. Security Council is to begin discussing the possibility of deploying U.N. troops in the stricken West African nation, envoys said of an idea it had previously been uncomfortable with before France's recent military intervention.
The French military on Wednesday took control of the airport in Kidal, the last town held by al-Qaeda-linked rebels, and is planning to quickly hand over to a larger African force, whose task will be to root out insurgents in their mountain redoubts.
U.N. envoys have said sending in a peacekeeping force would offer clear advantages over an African-led force, as it would be easier to monitor human rights compliance and the United Nations could choose which national contingents to use in the force.
"This development is extremely positive and I want this initiative to be carried through," Le Drian said on France Inter radio, adding that France would "obviously play its role".
French has deployed some 4,500 troops in a three-week ground an air offensive, aimed at breaking Islamists' 10-month hold on towns in northern Mali.
After taking back the major Saharan towns of Gao and Timbuktu at the weekend, Le Drian confirmed that troops were still stuck at the airport in Kidal, where bad weather was preventing them from entering the town.
Many are now warning of the risk of ethnic reprisals as displaced black Malians take up arms to return to their liberated towns.
(Reporting By Vicky Buffery; editing by Mark John)