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UN formally asks Canada to extend Mali mission to prevent medevac gap

A Canadian Armed Forces soldier provides security as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on the United Nations in Gao, Mali, Saturday December 22, 2018. The United Nations is formally asking Canada to extend its mission in Mali in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to prevent a gap in the provision of life-saving medical evacuations for wounded peacekeepers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The United Nations is formally asking Canada to extend its mission in Mali in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to prevent a gap in providing life-saving medical evacuations for wounded peacekeepers.

The Canadian peacekeeping contingent in Mali, comprising eight military helicopters and 250 service members, is scheduled to end its 12-month mission at the end of July.

But the UN sent a letter to Ottawa late last month asking Canada to continue some operations until October, when a Romanian contingent that is taking over will formally begin its own operations.

The letter is the most direct appeal the UN has made to Canada after months of quiet lobbying that Ottawa has resisted.

The federal government argues that the UN can fill the gap between the departure of the Canadians contingent and arrival of the Romanians with civilian contractors, as it has done in the past.

But the UN has said a short Canadian extension is more cost-efficient and would better support the mission because civilian helicopters aren’t able to operate in the same conditions as military counterparts.

The Canadian Press