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Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan speaks in Arbil, northern Iraq, on July 12, 2016.

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada is actively looking at taking part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Africa to combat the spread of violent Islamic extremism.

Officials from the Defence and Global Affairs departments are assessing the possibility of Canada joining UN peacekeeping operations in Mali or the Central African Republic. Both countries have been plagued by violence.

"When we said we were going to be a responsible partner in the world, we meant it," Mr. Sajjan said in a conference call with reporters from Kuwait on Wednesday. "We don't want to spend a lot of timing talking buzz words, we want to demonstrate with action."

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Mr. Sajjan said Africa is a particular focus for Canada because it is so often ignored and it's a region in need of peacekeeping and other international efforts to bring about stability.

He cited Mali as one country where Islamist militants have staged high-profile assaults to destabilize the country, including deadly attacks against UN peacekeeping troops.

"There are parts of the world that haven't the right amount of attention and that is why we are looking at Africa," Mr. Sajjan said. "This is one place we need to be mindful of. There is a lot of violence that is created and, to be a responsible partner, we need to look at all aspects of the world."

The UN Security Council agreed in late June to add 2,500 peacekeepers to the more than 13,000 serving in the stabilization mission in Mali, which has become the deadliest place to serve for UN troops. According to the UN, 101 peacekeepers have been killed since the UN deployed there in April, 2013.

More than 12,000 UN troops and police have been in the Central African Republic since 2014, following a coup that unleashed a wave of sectarian violence, pitting Muslims against Christians.

Mr. Sajjan acknowledged that sending Canadian peacekeepers into Africa poses risks, but he argued the world can't sit idly while these countries are engulfed in waves of extremist and sectarian violence.

"We will be moving ahead of this because it is extremely important to send a message to our multilateral partners that Canada will play a responsible role in the world," he said.

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The Defence Minister did not give a time frame for when the mission would be announced or how many troops would be deployed, but the United Nations is organizing a meeting in London in September where countries will asked to make peacekeeping contributions.

Canada and Mexico are also exploring joint participation in a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Colombia as part of a peace treaty to end a half-century-old guerrilla war.

The United Nations currently has 16 peacekeeping operations around the world, including nine in Africa

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