African leader aims for Mali mission in early 2013

Updated: 12/05/2012 2:35 PM KSTP.com

(AP) PARIS - U.N.-mandated African forces could intervene early next year to dislodge al-Qaida-affiliates from their new stronghold in northern Mali, Ivory Coast’s president said Wednesday, even as the president of Chad decried "total confusion" about a possible international intervention.

The African leaders were in Paris separately Wednesday amid increased urgency in the West, in Africa and at the United Nations that an international, African-led operation is needed to keep western Africa from becoming a hotbed of terrorists and drug traffickers.

President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, which offered financial support for the efforts to stabilize northern Mali, urged the U.N. to quickly pass a resolution to authorize a military intervention. He chairs the West African bloc known as ECOWAS, which has assembled a plan for 3,300 African troops to be deployed in the region.

If the U.N. gives a go-ahead, the operation could start "in the first quarter" of 2013, Ouattara said on French radio. "We are in a position to intervene, the troops are training."

But hours later, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande, President Idriss Deby of Chad told reporters it was too early to consider whether his country’s forces might participate in any such action. Deby said Mali’s fragile government and ECOWAS must better specify "which road map" to use, and "what they want" out of a possible intervention.

"There is total confusion" in the international community about a possible intervention, he said.

Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, charged with reporting on the situation in Mali, warned about how terrorist and criminal groups were settling in northern Mali by the day. He urged the government in Bamako to overcome internal divisions, and cautioned that an ill-conceived military operation could lead to "severe human rights abuses."

Mali, formerly a poor but stable nation, was thrown into turmoil after a March coup by disgruntled soldiers, who toppled the country’s democratically elected leader. A mix of rebel groups took advantage of the power vacuum to seize a territory in the north that’s about the same size as France.

Ouattara’s push for an intervention came despite concessions announced Tuesday in negotiations between the Malian government and Islamist extremists and Tuareg rebels vying for control of the north. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a radical group born on the remains of a former insurgent group in neighboring Algeria, and two allied groups control the vast northern territory along the arid Sahel region.

Hollande, after meeting with Ouattara on Tuesday, "expressed his determination to financially support" African efforts in Mali, according to a statement from the French president’s office. The statement did not say how much money that would involve.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Wednesday that while the political talks are important, "France hopes an African military intervention can start to be deployed as soon as possible, given the threat from terrorist groups."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)