U.N. Chief Backs Mali Intervention with Conditions

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U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday the Security Council should approve a military attack on Islamic militants in Mali only if African nations can answer "fundamental questions" on their proposed force.

The U.N. leader said in a report that any operation in northern Mali carries major humanitarian and human rights risks even though it is becoming necessary because of mounting abuses by the "terrorist and affiliated" militants.

Ban said the Security Council had to demand stronger military plans from African backers of the operation and added that the United Nations could not offer financing for the enterprise.

Tuareg rebels and Islamists linked to al-Qaida took over northern Mali in March, seizing on the chaos after a military coup in the capital Bamako. West African nations want to send a military force to retake the territory if talks to end the crisis fail.

The Islamists have destroyed Muslim shrines and been accused of carrying out summary executions.

"I am profoundly aware that if a military intervention in the north is not well conceived and executed, it could worsen an already fragile humanitarian situation and also result in severe human rights abuses," Ban said in his much-anticipated report.

"Fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered," he added.

"A military operation may be required as a last resort to deal with the most hard line extremist and criminal elements in the north," Ban said.

"But, before that stage is reached, the focus must be on initiating a broad-based and inclusive political dialogue aimed at forging national consensus around a roadmap for transition," Ban warned.

Ban said that if international concerns are met then the Security Council could give a one-year mandate for the 3,300-member force sought by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to "take all necessary measures" against the militants.

He said the force should "assist the Malian authorities to recover the occupied region in the north of Mali in order to restore the unity and territorial integrity of Mali and reduce the threats posed by terrorist and affiliated groups and transnational organized crime."

The U.N. Security Council is provisionally scheduled to discuss the Mali crisis on December 5 and diplomats said a resolution taking approval for the force closer could be passed by the end of the year.

A military operation could probably not be launched before September next year because of the time needed to ready a force and the rainy season which lasts from mid-June to August, African military planners have told the U.N.

The force would be known as the African-led International Support Mission for Mali, or AFISMA.

Ban said the Security Council should set benchmarks for the operational readiness of African and Malian forces and for political and human rights training before allowing any operation.

The secretary general also said that the United Nations could not provide funding. Diplomats have estimated that up to $500 million could be needed for the first year.

"Irrespective of who undertakes such an activity, funding for the initial combat-related military operations could be through voluntary or bilateral contributions," he said.

The council should only consider offering a "logistics package" for the operations, Ban added.

One Security Council diplomat warned that Ban's recommendation against funding could be seen as "insulting" by African nations.

"This could have an impact on the U.N.'s image," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "This is unprecedented. This is a matter of peace and security in the region."

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