UNITED NATIONS - France announced Thursday it will circulate a draft U.N. resolution aimed at stepping up pressure on Mali's government and its West African neighbors to agree quickly on a workable military plan to oust Islamic militants who seized the north and are turning it into a terrorist hub.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said his government envisages a two-stage plan - an initial resolution to encourage a political and military response to the crisis in Mali followed by a second resolution that would give U.N. Security Council authorization to an African intervention force.
"We need concrete elements. We have been waiting for these elements for a few months," Araud told reporters after a closed council meeting on the Mali crisis. "So as the Security Council we are trying to build the momentum that so far has been lacking."
A meeting slated for Oct. 19 in Mali's capital, Bamako, will bring together the African Union, the West African regional group ECOWAS, the U.N. and other key actors. After that, Araud said he hoped the Security Council will have enough detailed information about plans for a military intervention to adopt a resolution giving it a green light.
ECOWAS asked the Security Council on Sept. 1 to authorize a military intervention to oust the al-Qaida linked Islamists. But the council said it wants ECOWAS to prepare a "feasible" plan with "detailed options" for a force, and to coordinate with other African nations and the European Union.
The soldiers who seized power in March said they were ousting Mali's democratically elected leader because of his poor handling of the rebellion in the north, which began in January. After the coup, Tuareg rebels took advantage of the power vacuum and within weeks took control of the north aided by an Islamist faction. Then the Islamists quickly ousted the Tuaregs and now control half the country.
"We have to act in Mali because the northern part of Mali has become a hub for terrorist groups and it's frightening not only Mali but the region" and beyond, Araud said. "We have to act as quickly as possible ... in political and military terms. Both of them have to go hand by hand, but we need a military intervention."
He said the resolution that France expects to circulate "in the coming days" will call on the political side for armed groups to dissociate themselves from terrorism and enter into negotiations with the government in the capital Bamako - and on the Bamako government to open negotiations with those groups.
Secondly, Araud said, it will authorize countries to send military trainers to rebuild the Malian army so it can take the lead in restoring the country's territorial integrity.
The draft resolution will also remind ECOWAS and the African Union that the council is prepared to authorize a military intervention but it needs "a concept of operation" accepted by Mali and by ECOWAS members, he said.
Araud said the first resolution would not authorize any military intervention because Security Council members don't want to give "a carte blanche" to Mali and ECOWAS and want to see detailed plans for the intervention, including where troops will come from.
The French ambassador said the council is "very, very, very unified" on the need to urgently act on Mali.