A French soldier stands guard as a villager looks on in front of charred pickup trucks used by Islamist rebels in Diabaly. Picture: REUTERS

ADDIS ABABA — Mohammed Abdel Aziz, Foreign Minister of Libya, has called for a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force in Mali after the rebellion in the north of the country has been quelled.

"When the (military) operation ends, the Security Council should think about deploying a limited peacekeeping force in the area," Mr Aziz told reporters at the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa on Thursday. "I’m afraid that once the operation ends … it will be difficult to maintain and sustain security," he said.

While Mr Abdel Aziz did not state outright his support for the French intervention in Mali, he said that "we should not say that France made a mistake", adding: "Libya’s position since the beginning was in favour of dialogue without resorting to any military intervention but probably the situation on the ground dictated a military intervention."

Mr Aziz admitted that the deployment of French troops had not been anticipated by African countries.

"I think some of us we were taken by surprise … We were thinking that the focus would be on the support of the government of Mali itself to empower it to be able to move forward to liberate the north," he said. "Now the situation is a de facto situation and I think the job has to be done as quickly as possible with less suffering, with less casualties."

Not surprisingly, Libya is worried about the consequences that this military intervention will have on countries in the region, in particular with regard to refugees and the smuggling of weapons.

"I think we should learn from the lessons that happened in Libya," Mr Aziz said. "The problem is that the international community, when it supported Libya, didn’t think about the so-called preventative diplomacy on the completion of the operation. So it was left open," he said.

He admitted that many of the weapons being used by the separatists in northern Mali originated in Libya but denied that arms were still being smuggled out of the country.

"We realise that we have serious problems in relation to the security of our borders (but) on the other hand we have no indication at the moment that weapons are being smuggled from Libya to neighbouring countries going to Mali," he said.

With regards to the recent hostage crisis in Algeria, Mr Aziz said Libya was saddened by the events, in particular the casualties that were sustained.

He maintained, however, that the authorities in the country took the right course of action. "I think Algeria had no other option but to act immediately to contain the situation, otherwise probably the situation would have deteriorated even more."

He clearly sees a link between the French deployment in Mali and the attack in Algeria: "What the extremists want is to expand their operation into neighbouring countries to divert the attention from the north of Mali itself."

For Mr Aziz, what is important is more involvement and co-ordination at the regional level.

"What you need is the engagement of the neighbouring countries, because they know the specificity of the region, they know the problems and they have the tribal connections," he said.

"You can’t secure the area without their own people and therefore the engagement of the neighbouring countries in the peacekeeping operation is a must."