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UN approves military mission to oust Mali Islamists

The UN Security Council has authorised military action to retake northern Mali from al Qaeda-linked extremists who took advantage of a March coup to impose a brutal form of sharia law in the vast territory.


The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved a French-backed resolution to send an African-led military force to help take back northern Mali from Islamist militants.

The resolution stressed that there must be a two-track plan, political and military, to reunify the country, which has been in turmoil since a coup in March.

West African nations say they have 3,300 troops ready to go to Mali to help rebuild the country's army and support a military operation.

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters Thursday it was premature to say when the military operation would take place because African and Malian troops must be trained and much depends on the political process and the country's extreme weather.

It is unlikely to be launched before September 2013.

“Our goal would be to have a real political process which will allow the Malian army to go back to its barracks in the northern part of the country without fighting,” he said. “That would be our preferred option.”

He added: “Nobody is ignoring the complexity of the task that awaits the international community to restore the territorial integrity of Mali and to end the terrorist activities in the north of the country,”

Tuareg rebels and other separatists, including al Qaeda-linked militants, took advantage of a coup in Mali in March to capture the northern half of the country, an area the size of France. The more extremist among them soon gained the upper hand and imposed a brutal form of Islamic law on the territory.

The conflict has so far displaced more than 400,000 people, according to the UN.

Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly welcomed the resolution as "an historic step" in the battle against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies.

Terrorist safe haven

France drew up the resolution after weeks of talks with the United States, which had expressed doubts that the proposed Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force would be strong enough for a protracted desert battle against the militants.

The resolution calls for diplomatic efforts to draw the Tuareg rebels into a coalition against their former Islamist allies.

The US has also suggested that troops from Chad, veterans of desert battles, be brought in to help the West African force.

At the same time, European nations and the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) will train Mali's enfeebled army, which was routed in March by the Tuareg offensive.

It said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, ECOWAS, the African Union and other states involved will have to secure "the council's satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation" before hostilities can start.

The resolution called on UN member states and international organizations to pay for AFISMA. The Security Council said it would consider setting up a new UN fund for equipment and services for the force.

While the US and European nations agree that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies cannot be left to create a terrorist safe haven in Mali, they have not yet agreed the tactics to be used and this will have to be further refined in coming months.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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