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W.African leaders meet on military plan for north Mali
by Staff Writers
Abuja (AFP) Nov 11, 2012

Mali intervention talks include 5,500 troops: source
Abuja (AFP) Nov 09, 2012 - Talks among West African nations on a strategy to retake Mali's Islamist-held north have included plans for an expanded mission of 5,500 troops, including those from outside the region, a source familiar with the talks said Friday.

Representatives from South Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Chad would also be invited to participate in a regional summit on the military strategy set for Sunday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the source said.

The number of troops would be a substantial increase from the just over 3,000 originally proposed by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The source spoke as a meeting of ECOWAS foreign and defence ministers was under way in Abuja. Defence chiefs from the region were also attending.

"ECOWAS defence chiefs have proposed a change in the composition of the troops to be deployed," the source from the bloc said.

"They are recommending to the summit 5,500 troops as against the initial proposition of 3,200 by ECOWAS. The difference is expected to be contributed by non-ECOWAS states which have signified interest to contribute troops."

He added that "South Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Chad are being invited to participate at the summit level on Sunday."

The military plan would eventually be sent for approval at the UN Security Council, which on October 12 set a 45-day timeframe for a blueprint. It would be delivered through the African Union's Peace and Security Council.

Mali, once one of the region's most stable democracies, rapidly imploded after a coup in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict Islamic law.

West African leaders meet at an emergency summit Sunday to firm up military plans to win back Islamist-held northern Mali, as fears grow over the risks the extremists pose to the region and beyond.

Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States will meet in the Nigerian capital Abuja to approve a military blueprint for action. That plan will eventually be sent via the African Union to the UN Security Council for review.

Countries from outside ECOWAS have also been invited to attend the summit, including South Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Chad, according to a source from the bloc.

Discussions so far have involved the deployment of more than 3,000 troops from the region, backed by soldiers other countries. The ECOWAS source said military chiefs were requesting a total of 5,500 troops.

Regional leaders have stressed that dialogue remains the preferred option to resolve the crisis in Mali's north, but they have also warned that talks are not open-ended.

ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo has said that the bloc should pursue a dual approach of dialogue and military pressure.

The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy and ex-president of the European Commission, has said every effort would be made to avoid military intervention.

But some analysts have questioned whether a negotiated solution is possible with Islamist extremists intent on establishing a theocratic state.

"There's a sense in which (military force) is the only course open, because clearly there's nothing to negotiate," said Jibrin Ibrahim, head of the Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy and Development.

At the same time, analysts and others warn of the risks a continued occupation of the north poses to countries beyond Mali. They say it could provide a safe haven to Al Qaeda-linked extremists and criminal groups.

The ECOWAS military strategy the leaders are to examine Sunday was drawn up with the help of experts from the European Union, African Union, UN and the region. The region is also seeking logistical support from elsewhere.

Foreign and defence ministers from five European countries -- France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain -- are expected to meet next Thursday to discuss a European mission train Malian troops.

Algeria, seen as important to any military operation, has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution.

While not a member of ECOWAS, Algeria is viewed as key due to its superior military capabilities, intelligence services and experience battling Islamist extremism. It also shares a 1,400-kilometre (875-mile) border with Mali.

Mali rapidly imploded after a coup in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict sharia law.


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