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Troops could be headed to Mali to fight Islamist extremists

From Vladimir Duthiers, CNN
November 12, 2012 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • ECOWAS, a group of African nations, wants to send 3,300 troops to Mali to fight Islamists
  • The plan next goes to the African Union and the United Nations
  • Islamists took control of parts of Mali in March after a coup
  • ECOWAS also is trying to keep the peace in Guinea Bissau

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- A summit of African leaders approved a proposal Sunday to send 3,300 troops to Mali to help evict Islamist radicals who have taken control of that country's northern territory. But a spokesman for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says more steps are needed before any troops are deployed.

"ECOWAS has adopted the concept of operation for a military force," spokesman Sunny Ugoh told CNN by phone. "This will now be presented to the African Union Peace and Security Council, and from there, to the United Nations Security Council. Within the context of implementing resolution 2071, the troop size will increase and will require the participation of other African countries."

Read more: al Qaeda's 'last chance' for a country?

Strategies to rid Mali of extremists
Mali in spotlight after military coup

United Nations Resolution 2071, adopted on October 12, demanded that armed groups cease human rights abuses and humanitarian violations in northern Mali.

The final communique from the summit in Nigeria says the ECOWAS nations continue to prefer a negotiated settlement with the Islamist rebels, but "recourse to force may be indispensable in order to dismantle terrorist and transnational criminal networks that pose a threat to international peace and security."

Read more: Mali Islamists destroy tombs in Timbuktu

The majority of the military forces will be provided by Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger, and the proposed one year mandate would begin after a vote by the United Nations in coming weeks.

Islamists linked to al Qaeda wrested control of Timbuktu and northern Mali following a military coup in March. They have imposed a strict form of Islamic law on areas they control, and have earned international condemnation for destroying ancient tombs recognized as UN world heritage sites.

During the so-called "Extra-Ordinary Session," ECOWAS leaders from more than a dozen African countries also discussed the fragile situation in Guinea Bissau. According to the communique, ECOWAS called on the African Union to recognize the transitional government there, while condemning violence in the country, and looking to expedite a joint assessment mission with international partners including the United Nations and the European Union.

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