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The international assistance force for Mali  has been transformed into a peacekeeping mission.

The transfer of authority from the forces of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) took place during a ceremony in Bamako, capital of the West African country, the entire north of which was occupied by radical Islamists for nearly a year.

“The establishment of MINUSMA is the result of a unanimous decision of the United Nations Security Council and has reaffirmed the engagement of the international community to accompany the people of Mali in their quest for stability, peace and prosperity,” Bert Koenders, Special Representative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and head of MINUSMA, said at yesterday’s morning ceremony.

The conflict, which began in early 2012 with a rebellion of ethnic Tuareg groups, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Government to request assistance from France to halt the southward march of the extremists, as AFISMA gradually built strength.

In April, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong MINUSMA to take over from the African-led force, authorizing the blue helmets “to use all necessary means” to carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artefacts and create the conditions for provision of humanitarian aid.