New York             -           The United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali must remain in the country, and at its current strength, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said in a new report, after Washington questioned its validity. “The presence of the mission remains crucial, and its mandate remains relevant, given the complexity of the challenges,” Guterres said in the quarterly report recently submitted to the Security Council and seen by AFP on Wednesday.

“I therefore recommend that the mandate of MINUSMA be extended for another year, until 30 June 2021 at the current overall strength,” he added. The mandate for the force of more than 13,000 military and police personnel expires on June 30. The UN will vote on a resolution to extend MINUSMA on June 29.

For more than a year, the US -- the largest financial contributor to the UN -- has regularly questioned the validity of the mission, deemed ill-suited to the ongoing violence in the west African nation.

The semi-arid country is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in 2012 and which has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives since.

Despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops, the conflict has engulfed the center of the country and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

“The human rights and humanitarian situations remain of deep concern,” Guterres said.

He called for the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement to be accelerated.

And he warned that allegations of human rights violations against defense and security forces must be investigated.