UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations will screen all Chadian troops offered for the world body's peacekeeping force in Mali to make sure there are no child soldiers in their ranks, the head of U.N. peacekeeping said on Tuesday.
Chad was included in a U.N. list of countries published last week where children are recruited, killed, maimed or raped by government forces and armed groups. Others on the list include Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and Mali.
Countries that have child soldiers are barred from participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions. Chad has vowed to cleanse its ranks of child soldiers and the United Nations has given the country four months to take steps to end the recruitment of children.
"Let me assure you that the United Nations is making every effort to screen the Chadian contingent to ... ensure that no troops under 18 are among them, as well as provide training on child protection issues," U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the 15-nation Security Council.
France, aided by 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters who hijacked a revolt by the Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of Mali. U.N. officials and diplomats say that the Chadians proved to be an extremely effective fighting force in Mali.
The U.N. peacekeeping force - to be known as MINUSMA - is expected to assume authority next month from a U.N.-backed African force deployed there to take over from the French. Most of the African force, including the Chadians, are expected to become part of the U.N. force, U.N. officials and diplomats say.
The deployment of the force is subject to a council review of Mali's security situation, the focus of Tuesday's meeting of the 15-nation Security Council.
Ladsous also reiterated his concerns about the need to properly equip the peacekeeping force.
"It is important to note that we are still seeking pledges for important outstanding capabilities, including medium utility helicopters, armed helicopters, intelligence, information operations and special forces," he told the council.
He described the shortages as "critical shortfalls."
Once the U.N. peacekeeping force, to be known as MINUSMA, is deployed, France will continue to handle counterterrorism and peace enforcement operations as needed in Mali, while the U.N. blue helmets will handle traditional peacekeeping duties of policing and trying to ensure new violence does not erupt.
In April, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a mandate for the 12,600-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force from July 1. The force will be supported by French troops if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.
Ameerah Haq, head of the field support for U.N. peacekeeping, told the council that the hot climate in the vast West African state created serious challenges. Haq said the United Nations could not deploy its mobile communications system to the northern, rebel-held town of Kidal "because its sensitive components will melt."
Last week Mali signed a ceasefire deal with Tuareg separatist rebels, clearing the way for government troops to return to Kidal before a presidential election next month.
The U.N. special envoy for Mali, Albert Gerard Koenders, told the council by video link that the agreement "is an important first step towards full restoration of constitutional order and territorial integrity ... (and) paves the way for holding elections nationwide, including in Kidal."
Koenders said he would chair an international commission to oversee implementation of the agreement. Another international commission, he said, will look into allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations in Mali.
Mali's Tuargeg rebels launched an uprising early last year and soon allied themselves with Islamist fighters who took advantage of a coup in the capital in March 2012 to seize the desert north. They were later sidelined by the better armed Islamist groups.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bill Trott)
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