International officials discuss UN force for Mali

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Associated Press

Posted on February 5, 2013 at 12:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 5 at 1:00 PM

BRUSSELS (AP) — International officials said Tuesday they are discussing the possibility of using a U.N. force to provide long-term security in the troubled African country of Mali so that a political transition can take place.

Any such decision would have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council.

The current African-led support mission to Mali might be transformed into a U.N. force, said Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, president of the commission of the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS.

"We must note that the problem we are facing in Mali, as we've said on a number of occasions, is not just a question of national or regional security," Ouedraogo said. "It's a question of international security."

In Mali, French and Malian troops are reclaiming vast areas of the north of the country from jihadists and other rebel groups. Officials in other countries have feared that, with uncontested control of the north, jihadists and drug traffickers could develop global plots.

Ouedraogo praised the African-led forces and said ECOWAS looks forward to "the liberation of that region" and the restoration of Mali's territorial integrity.

"But then for a longer period we need to ensure that peace and stability are guaranteed in that region," he said. "And that means a lot of work. It means very considerable resources. And that is why it is the desire of the African Union countries and the ECOWAS countries that the United Nations is involved in the follow-up to this."

The comments came after a meeting in Brussels of international officials about the best ways to support Mali. The meeting, chaired by the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, included representatives of the U.N., the African Union, ECOWAS, the World Bank and dozens of countries.

The participants said they were heartened by the broad participation — and by the unity of purpose displayed. They also said they supported the program put forth by the Malian government for a return to constitutional democracy.

International officials also have been eager to see a national dialogue established between the government in Bamako, Mali's capital, and groups in the north that are willing to respect Mali's territorial integrity, as well as to have allegations of human rights abuses by Malian soldiers investigated.

But at a news conference following the meeting, the Malian foreign minister, Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, seemed angered by questions on those topics. He appeared to say there were no legitimate opposition groups in the north, only terrorists and criminals.

And while he said the Malian president had taken a clear stand against retaliation by his government's soldiers, Coulibaly spoke not of those allegations but of 130 Malian soldiers whom he said surrendered, then were emasculated, had their throats cut and were shot in the back of the head.

"This war has been imposed upon us," he said.

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Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin

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