* U.N. statement falls short of backing Mali intervention
* Worries Mali may become ‘West African Afghanistan’
* Nigeria, Niger, Senegal offer troops for Mali force
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, June 18 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Monday declared its readiness to consider backing West African military intervention in Mali, where rebels and Islamist militants have seized control of much of the country, but said it needed more details on the plan.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their readiness to further examine the request of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means and modalities of the envisaged deployment and other possible measures,” the 15-nation body said in a statement.
It also said the council “shared the concerns raised by representatives of ECOWAS regarding the current challenges for the restoration of full constitutional order in Mali and for upholding (its) sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.”
But the statement fell short of an explicit declaration of support for the idea of giving ECOWAS a U.N. mandate for military action in Mali, which would require the adoption of a Security Council resolution.
Mali, once regarded as a good example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March. The power vacuum enabled Tuareg rebels from the north to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
The uprising also involved both local and foreign Islamist militants, and Western diplomats talk of the risk of the country turning into a “West African Afghanistan.”
The African Union said last week it had asked the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that would allow military intervention in Mali.
ECOWAS, an umbrella group of 15 countries aimed at promoting regional cooperation, says it is ready to organize military intervention to restore constitutional order in the country, and has asked the Security Council for U.N. support and a mandate.
After meeting with AU and ECOWAS representatives on Friday, diplomats said the Security Council was divided on the request. They said ECOWAS needed to show it had the troops, credible objectives and a sound strategy to conduct such an operation. There are also questions about funding.
Another question that needs to be answered, diplomats said, is what an ECOWAS force would do in northern Mali with the Tuareg and Islamist militants believed to be linked to al Qaeda.
Over the weekend, African officials said Nigeria, Niger and Senegal have pledged to provide the core of a 3,270-strong force whose mission would initially be bolstering Mali’s fragmented army and stabilizing political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held north if talks fail.
Of the 15 council members, France, Morocco and Togo were among the most enthusiastic about swiftly endorsing an ECOWAS operation in Francophone Mali, council envoys said. Others, they added, are more skeptical.
France’s U.N. mission announced a more optimistic assessment of Friday’s Security Council talks with ECOWAS and the AU.
“We have made good progress at ECOWAS/UNSC talks to help Mali uphold its constitutional order and territorial integrity,” the mission announced on its Twitter feed.
Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said on Friday the council’s response to ECOWAS’ proposal on Mali had so far been “very, very positive” and predicted it was likely to adopt a resolution endorsing ECOWAS intervention in Mali “very soon.”
ECOWAS has intervened militarily in past African conflicts, such as the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Separately, France’s defense minister said on Monday Europe should get involved directly to help resolve the worsening crisis in Mali once the U.N. Security Council endorses the AU’s request to allow the use of force in the West African country. (Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Mohammad Zargham)