(Adds details of withdrawal of peacekeeping force in paragraphs 4-9)

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council voted on Friday to end a decade-long peacekeeping mission in Mali after the West African country’s military junta abruptly asked the 13,000-strong force two weeks ago to leave “without delay.” The end of the operation, known as MINUSMA, follows years of tensions and government restrictions that have hobbled peacekeeping air and ground operations since Mali teamed up with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in 2021.

The 15-member council adopted a French-drafted resolution asking the mission to begin on Saturday “the cessation of its operations, transfer of its tasks, as well as the orderly and safe drawdown and withdrawal of its personnel, with the objective of completing this process by Dec. 31, 2023.” U.N. peacekeepers are credited with playing a vital role in protecting civilians against an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands. Some experts fear the security situation could worsen when the mission departs, leaving Mali’s underequipped army alone with about 1,000 Wagner fighters to combat militants who control swaths of territory in the desert north and center.

The Security Council resolution authorizes MINUSMA to – “within its immediate vicinity” – respond to imminent threats of violence to civilians and contribute to the safe, civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance until Sept. 30.

It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to work with the Malian authorities on a plan to transfer MINUSMA’s tasks and present it to the Security Council by Aug. 15. It calls on Mali to cooperate fully with the U.N. during MINUSMA’s withdrawal.

When asking for MINUSMA to leave, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the Security Council earlier this month that there was a “crisis of confidence” between the U.N. operation and the Malian authorities.

Until Dec. 31, MINUSMA is also be authorized to provide security for U.N. personnel, facilities, convoys, installations and equipment and associated personnel; execute operations to extract U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers in danger and provide medical evacuations. Mali has struggled to stem an Islamist insurgency that took root following an uprising in 2012. The U.N. Security Council deployed MINUSMA in 2013 to support foreign and local efforts to restore stability. Frustrations over the growing insecurity spurred two coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Jonathan Oatis)

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