African leaders call for U.N. mandate for Mali mission
By Ange Aboa
YAMOUSSOUKRO (Reuters) - West African leaders on Thursday called for a regional military operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels in north Mali to be transformed into a U.N. peacekeeping mission as quickly as possible to secure desperately needed funding.
France sent troops into its former colony last month to drive out Islamist fighters, claiming their seizure of Mali's north last year posed a threat to international security.
Paris hopes that from March it can start withdrawing its 4,000 troops but is awaiting the effective deployment of an African force (AFISMA), plagued by logistical and financing setbacks.
Meeting in Ivory Coast's capital Yamoussoukro, presidents from West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS backed calls from France, the United States and Mali itself for the mission to receive a U.N. peacekeeping mandate.
"This shouldn't distract from ongoing operations on the ground," ECOWAS commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told Reuters.
"It's simply an indication that, once peace has returned, we need the support of the United Nations system both for logistical and financial support."
Some two thirds of the 8,000 troops of the African-led mission (AFISMA) have deployed to Mali.
Many still lack the capacity to carry out combat operations and remain in southern Mali, leaving French forces and around 2,000 troops from Chad to secure northern towns and hunt down Islamist fighters hiding in desert and mountain redoubts. Continued...