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Mali calls for urgent UN approval of intervention force


UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Mali on Wednesday appealed to the UN Security Council to urgently approve an international force against Islamist militants and rebels who have taken over the north of the country.

France hopes that a Security Council resolution authorizing international military action will be passed this month. The United Nations has, however, reaffirmed questions about the force and who will pay for it.

While the Mali government and African and UN envoys have sought political talks with the Islamists and Tuareg rebels, African nations are pressing for quick authorization of the force so the training of Malian forces can start in the New Year.

"My delegation wants to stress the urgency of deploying this international force," Traore Rokiatou Guikine, Mali's minister for African integration, told a Security Council meeting on the crisis.

"The daily suffering of the occupied Malian people is well known: there are floggings, amputation of limbs, summary executions, children forced to become soldiers, rapes, stoning, looting and the destruction of cultural and historic sites," she said.

"The most basic human rights are continually being violated by a horde of terrorists and other criminals organized in criminal bands, mainly by foreigners," the minister added.

Most of the troops for the intervention force are expected to come from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which says it has a 3,300 strong force on standby to help the Mali military retake its territory.

Envoys for the African Union and ECOWAS pressed the Security Council to quickly back the force. They said it would give impetus to efforts to reach a political solution.

Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaeda linked Islamists seized much of northern Mali in March, taking advantage of a military coup in the capital. The international powers fear that the territory could become a safe haven base for militant action across the region.

France, Germany and other European nations are preparing help to train the Mali army, according to diplomats, but the United Nations has raised questions about planning for the force.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has said military action should be a "last resort" if political talks fail but acknowledged that it will probably be necessary.

Ban fully shares the "profound sense of urgency regarding the crisis in Mali," assistant secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the meeting.

But he added that "any operations conducted by the force will need to be well-planned, coordinated and implemented" and only launched after political efforts have failed and standards for military training and readiness have been met.

Ban has also made it clear that the United Nations cannot pay for the force.

ECOWAS commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said African nations and the major powers were ready to finance the operation. He said there would be a financial contributors' meeting once the Security Council has given its authorization.

Some diplomats have said the force would need up to $500 million in its first year.

Preparations for a military intervention are gathering pace and officials say a campaign could be launched in September next year when Mali's rainy season is over.

Gerard Araud, France's UN ambassador, said his country was drafting a resolution that would allow the ECOWAS force to go to Bamako to train the Mali military which he said needs to be "rebuilt nearly from scratch".

Araud said that talks between the government and representatives of the Ansar Dine Islamist group and the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement had been started "under the pressure of the coming military operation."

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