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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
UN authorises use of military force against Islamists in Mali

Security council sanctions military operation to be carried out by an African-led force against al-Qaida and other militants

The UN security council on Thursday unanimously authorised the deployment of an African-led military force to help defeat al-Qaida and other Islamist militants in northern Mali.

The French-drafted resolution also authorised the EU and other UN member states to help rebuild the Malian security forces.

The adoption of the resolution was the result of a compromise that ended weeks of disagreements between the US and France over how best to tackle the problem of Mali. The fall of Mali's north in March to Islamist groups, including al-Qaida's North African wing, Aqim, has created a haven for militants and international organised crime groups in west Africa, stirring fears of attacks in Europe.

The resolution authorises the deployment for an initial one-year period of an African-led intervention force, to be known as Afisma, to take "all necessary measures, in compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law". The phrase "all necessary measures" is diplomatic code for military force.

Afisma, which is expected to comprise up to 3,300 troops, will assist the rebuilt Malian security forces "in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups".

The French text leaves open the question of how the international force will be funded. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has recommended against straight UN funding for the operation, suggesting that it be financed through voluntary contributions.

The voluntary approach appeals to neither France nor the AU. The resolution calls on Ban to submit a report to the council on funding options. The security council does not have to accept Ban's recommendation, though envoys say it may be difficult for the French to sway the council to support direct UN funding.

UN officials say Ban dislikes the idea of the United Nations providing direct financial and logistical support for the initial operation to dislodge al-Qaida from northern Mali because it will be a messy fight, with a simple goal of killing as many militants as possible.

"There could be serious human rights questions raised and I'm not sure it's a good idea for the UN to be directly involved in that," a diplomat told Reuters.

The fall of Mali's north to Islamist groups, including al-Qaida's North African wing, Aqim, has created a haven for militants and international organised crime groups in west Africa, stirring fears of attacks in Europe.

The resolution also sets key "benchmarks" for Mali, including a political agreement and verified training – including human rights training – and operational readiness of the battered Malian army and the African intervention force.

The political track would have to include a deal between the Malian government and the separatist Tuaregs and Ansar Dine, said diplomats said.

Recent political strife in southern Mali has also raised concern among western UN delegations, who want the Malian military to stop interfering in politics.

"The benchmarks are caveats to make sure Afisma and the Malian army are really up to the task," an envoy said.

UN diplomats and officials say there has been progress on the political front. The Tuareg separatist group MNLA, which launched the northern uprising, and Ansar Dine, a local Islamist group, have agreed to work on a negotiated solution with Malian officials .

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