I.Coast president wants armed Mali intervention early 2013

5th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called Wednesday for an armed intervention in early 2013 in Mali to oust armed Islamists who control the north of the desert state.

"Military intervention is indispensable and urgent. If we get a (United Nations) resolution in December, we hope to organise this intervention in the first quarter" of next year, he told Europe 1 radio in France.

Ouattara, who held talks Tuesday in Paris with French President Francois Hollande, is chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which says it is ready to deploy 3,300 troops to reclaim northern Mali.

It is waiting for approval from the UN, which is expected to decide sometime next month.

The international community is concerned the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are free to operate unchecked in north Mali and could use the huge territory as a base for attacks on Europe and north Africa.

Mali was plunged into crisis when troops seized power in a March 22 coup, creating a power vacuum that allowed Tuareg and Islamist rebels to snatch the large desert north and take over key towns including Timbuktu.

The four main armed groups are the homegrown Ansar Dine and Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) and the mainly foreign jihadists of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

Though the MNLA initially fought alongside the Islamists, the Tuaregs were sidelined in June and have since clashed with AQIM fighters.

On Tuesday, Mali government officials met with two armed groups for the first time in a landmark encounter that saw the rebels pledge to respect the country's territorial integrity and root out "terrorism".

The meeting in the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso were hosted by the country's President Blaise Compaore, who has acted as top mediator in the crisis for ECOWAS.

During the talks, Mali and the rebel groups -- Ansar Dine and the Tuareg MNLA -- agreed to "observe a cessation of hostilities", though there is not currently any fighting between the parties, and "recognised the need to create a framework of inclusive dialogue within Mali", officials said.

Among the principles for dialogue going forward are "respect of national unity and the territorial integrity of Mali", the "rejection of any form of extremism and terrorism", and the "respect of human rights, human dignity and basic and religious freedoms", the statement said.

The Islamists in the north have been enforcing strict Islamic law, or sharia, in areas under their control, stoning and whipping unmarried couples and amputating hands and feet of suspected thieves.

© 2012 AFP

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