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West African military chiefs meet on Mali force

By AFP

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AFP) - West African military leaders met in Ivory Coast on Saturday to define the mission of a regional security force that could be sent to northern Mali to fight armed groups in control of the north.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it has a 3,000-man force on standby to enter Mali to help the interim government and try to take back the northern half of the country, now controlled by Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaeda allies.

Mali lost the territory to the rebels in the chaotic aftermath of a March 22 coup in the capital Bamako.

The ECOWAS force would "stabilise and consolidate" the transitional powers in the capital and, alongside the Malian army, "engage in the reconquest of the north", said Ivory Coast army chief Soumaila Bakayoko at the start of the meeting.

He added that violence would only be a last resort, "after all attempts at dialogue were exhausted".

Malian army chief of staff Colonel Major Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele told reporters it would be difficult to solve the situation in the north without military intervention.

The meeting came a day after ECOWAS asked the United Nations Security Council to support the force. The UN has not yet agreed and is concerned by the size of the force.

In an interview to be published in France's Journal de Dimanche on Sunday, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou again called on the UN to adopt a resolution supporting military intervention in Mali and to stop "prolonging" the debate.