The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a new UN peacekeeping force for Mali on Thursday to help restore democracy and stabilize the northern half of the country which was controlled by Islamist jihadists until a France-led military operation ousted them three months ago.

The resolution authorizes deployment of a UN force comprising 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 international police. The UN peacekeepers would take over from a 6,000-member African-led mission now in Mali on July 1, although the deployment date would be subject to review.

Mali fell into turmoil after a March 2012 coup created a security vacuum that allowed secular Tuareg rebels to take over half of the country's north as a new homeland. Months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamic jihadists who imposed strict Shariah law in the north.

When the Islamists started moving into government-controlled areas in the south, France launched a military offensive on Jan. 11 to oust them. The fighters, many linked to al-Qaeda, fled the major towns in the north but many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.

The key jobs of the new UN force will be to stabilize key population centres in the north, support the re-establishment of government authority throughout the country, and assist the transitional authorities in restoring constitutional order, democratic governance and national unity.

Council has authorization to delay deployment

Because of the continuing insecurity in the north, the resolution authorizes the Security Council to review the deployment date within 60 days to assess whether militants pose a major threat in areas where the UN troops would operate or if international military forces are conducting major combat operations in those areas. If so, the council could delay the deployment.

The new UN force is not authorized to undertake offensive military operations against insurgents. Instead, the resolution authorizes French troops to intervene to support UN troops "under imminent and serious threat" at the request of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The resolution also makes no mention of counter-terrorism operations. France is currently carrying out such operations and is likely to continue doing so under an agreement with the Malian government.

The resolution authorizes the force "to take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements" to the northern areas, to rebuild the Malian police, and to disarm and demobilize former combatants.

The resolution condemns the move "by terrorist, extremist and armed groups toward the south" in January, as well as human rights abuses including executions, amputations and sexual violence. It reiterates that perpetrators must be held accountable and takes note that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged crimes.

The UN peacekeeping mission is also authorized to support political dialogue and presidential and legislative elections scheduled for July.