KATHMANDU: The Security Council on Thursday unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Nepal for four months ahead of its withdrawal, and urged all parties in the Himalayan country to back the peace process.

The 15-member body, endorsing a request by Kathmandu and recommendations by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, decided "to renew the mandate of UNMIN (UN mission in Nepal) until May 15, 2010.

Resolution 1909 also decided that UNMIN "should make the necessary arrangements with the government of Nepal for its withdrawal."

In a report to the council released last week, Ban voiced serious concern over Nepal's political stalemate, and said the next few months would be crucial for the peace process, which began when a civil war ended in 2006.

UN officials have repeatedly criticized the slow pace of Nepal's peace process, which includes drafting a new constitution by the end of May and integrating thousands of Maoist former fighters into the regular army.

Ban said withdrawing the mission now would be unwise, although he urged Nepal's political parties to agree a timeline that would create an "unambiguous exit strategy" for the UN.

More than 16,000 people died in the war between the Maoists and the state, and deep suspicions persist.

UNMIN was set up in 2007 to support and monitor the peace process, after a 10-year civil war between Maoist rebels and the state. Its mandate was due to expire Friday.