US eyes UN deal on Mali force this week
The United States hopes to reach a deal with France at the United Nations this week paving the way to an African-led force to battle Islamist militants in Mali, a US official said Monday.
"We were working very hard with France to get through some of the technical problems... we're trying to work it through so that we can have action this week," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Among the sticking points was the issue of funding the force, which would be deployed in northern Mali where Al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups and separatists have captured a swath of territory since an army coup in Bamako in March.
The West African bloc ECOWAS has 3,300 troops on standby, and African Union leaders on Monday called for the urgent deployment of a force to retake the north, where residents are being subjected to strict sharia law.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said he hopes a plan will come together this week, downplaying reported differences with Washington.
"There is an international resolution which should be put forward in the next few days at the United Nations" to outline a framework for military action, he told French media on Sunday.
But the United Nations has expressed reservations and warned a deployment could take another year.
Nuland said the resolution could see a two-phase implementation.
"There is a proposal for a first stage of training for the Mali military, which the EU would lead. They are in the process now of scoping and funding," Nuland told journalists.
Under US law, the United States cannot in any way finance a military that helped depose a democratically-elected government, until democracy is restored.
So Washington is trying to work out with its partners at the United Nations ways in which it can support the mission, perhaps via financing for ECOWAS in the second stage of the plan, Nuland said.
"We need to ensure that anything that goes forward in New York isolates the 'coupsters,' if you will, and makes sure that they are not beneficiaries in any way," she said.
"What we don't want to do is back off at all from an insistence that democracy be restored, that elected governments be restored in Mali.
"Remember that we need to be consistent not only with regard to Mali but not rewarding coups anywhere in the world."
Washington has called on the new Prime Minister Diango Cissoko to hold elections by April if possible.
© 2012 AFP