France proposes deadline for military intervention plan in Mali

UNITED NATIONS Tue Oct 9, 2012 1:12pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - France has drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution asking for a detailed plan within 30 days on an international military intervention in Mali in a bid to revive stalled attempts to help government troops reclaim the country's north from extremists.

Once such a plan is received from the West African regional body ECOWAS, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the African Union, a second resolution would need to be passed by the 15-member Security Council to approve the move.

Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some allied with al Qaeda, have hijacked the revolt in the north.

"We need more clarifications on models and formulas on how the international community can help," Ban told reporters during a visit to Paris on Tuesday, referring to what was needed from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the military intervention plan.

The African Union asked the Security Council in June to back military intervention, but the council first asked for a detailed operation plan. ECOWAS mapped out a three-phase operation and Mali's interim leader, Dioncounda Traore, asked the Security Council earlier this month to authorize the force.

But council diplomats have said the plan still lacked necessary details, with some voicing serious reservations about the ability of ECOWAS to tackle the northern Islamists anytime soon.

In a bid to reenergize the effort, France circulated a draft resolution late on Monday among council members that would urge ECOWAS to adhere to the 30-day timeline to deliver a specific military intervention plan.

The draft asks for "detailed and actionable recommendations to respond to the request of ... Mali for such an international military force, including means and modalities of the envisaged deployment, in particular the concept of operations, force generation capabilities and strength."

The resolution also "calls upon all Member States and regional and international organizations to prepare to provide support, including through military training, provision of equipment and other forms of assistance in efforts to combat terrorist and affiliated extremist groups."

No date has been set for a vote on the resolution, which diplomats said was likely to pass.

French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that Paris was ready to provide logistical, political and material support to an international force, although he has ruled out sending French troops to Mali.

"For the intervention itself, it's up to the Africans to organize themselves so that it is quick and efficient," Hollande said. "The objective is to wipe out terrorism."

Six French hostages are currently being held in the region by the north African arm of al Qaeda, which has threatened to kill them in the event of military intervention in Mali.

Some regional and Western governments have compared the situation in Mali and the wider Sahel to Afghanistan.

ECOWAS has intervened militarily in past African conflicts, including the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The conflict in Mali has also exacerbated a deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the turbulent Sahel region - a belt of land spanning nearly a dozen of the world's poorest countries on the southern rim of the Sahara - where millions are on the brink of starvation due to drought.

Ban told the Security Council on Friday he wanted to name former Italian Prime Minister and European Commission President Romano Prodi to be his envoy to the troubled Sahel region.

That appointment became official on Tuesday.

"He (Prodi) will help generate, sustain and coordinate international engagement in support of national efforts of Sahelian countries to address the multifaceted crisis, including with an initial focus on Mali," Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told reporters in New York.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Paul Simao)

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