France wants European solution to Sahel crisis
PARIS (Reuters) - Europe should get involved directly to help solve the worsening crisis in Mali and the Sahel once the U.N. Security Council endorses an African request to allow the use of force in the country, France's defense minister said on Monday.
Mali, once regarded as a good example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels from the north to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
The uprising also involved domestic and foreign Islamist militants, and Western diplomats talk of the risk of the country turning into a "West African Afghanistan".
Former colonial ruler France has said it would be ready to help restore stability in Mali if there was a Security Council resolution. But Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pushed for a Europe-wide solution during talks with his Italian counterpart Giampaolo Di Paola on Monday in Paris.
"The best solution ... is that Europeans who feel directly concerned by the evolution of the Sahel crisis and that want an overall solution, and not specifically a military one, meet and discuss the possibility of common action for a specific mission," he told reporters after the meeting.
Diplomats said on Friday the Security Council was not ready to agree to an African Union request for intervention, and that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) first needed to show it had the troops, credible objectives and a sound strategy to conduct an operation.
West African military chiefs have secured troop commitments from three nations for a Mali intervention force, officials said after a meeting in Ivory Coast.
"With regard to military intervention, we want African (nations) to take the initiative, but once those decisions are taken it would make sense to have significant support and collaboration with Europe," Le Drian said.
An advance party of European military and civilian security advisors are already operating in northern Niger in a mission brought forward due to deepening fears over the threat of terrorism from neighboring Mali, Nigerian officials said on June 9.
No details were given by the European Union, but the EU has previously said it has ear-marked 150 million euros ($187 million) to improve security across the Sahel, where the rebel takeover of Mali's north has bolstered al Qaeda's North Africa wing.
Le Drian appeared to be calling for a new initiative that would also look at ways to fight terrorism across the entire Sahel, including in Somalia.
"We especially discussed the Sahel which is really worrying us and agreed that there should be a European initiative," he said, without giving details.
(Reporting By John Irish and Patrick Vignal; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)
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