African Union backs plan to send troops into Mali

UN approval needed for plan to send 3,300 troops to help Mali's government regain control of north from al-Qaida-linked rebels

The African Union (AU) has backed a plan to send troops to push rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants out of northern Mali, clearing one hurdle for the strategy, which now needs UN approval.

Mali, once seen as a model of democracy in Africa, descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that led to Islamist fighters seizing two-thirds of the country.

West Africa's regional bloc Ecowas agreed on Sunday the details of the proposal to send 3,300 troops to help Mali's government regain control, with most of the soldiers to come from Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mali's former colonial ruler, France, has called for swift action, concerned al-Qaida's north African arm AQIM could use its growing presence there to launch attacks on French soil.

But support for the military push is not universal: regional powerhouse Algeria says it prefers a negotiated solution.

After the AU endorsed the plan, the bloc's peace and security council commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, said countries from other parts of Africa would be able to send troops and logistical support.

"This deployment aims to respond to the request by the Malian authorities to regain the occupied regions in the north of the country, dismantle the terrorist and criminal networks and restore effectively the authority of the state over the entire national territory," he told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Ecowas's plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali's south, followed by combat operations in the north, Malian army sources told Reuters.

Lamamra said the AU urged the UN security council to give its full support to the plan and authorise an initial period of one year for a planned deployment under chapter seven of the UN charter.

Chapter seven allows the 15-member council to authorise action ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

The security council gave African leaders 45 days from 12 October to draw up a plan for military intervention to retake the north, but diplomats say any such operation is months away.

"I think that a [UN resolution before the new year] is the aim for all of us," Lamamra said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds