US, France disagree over 'explosive' Mali
France and the US differ over how to deal with one of the most explosive corners of the world.
UNITED NATIONS - Northern Mali, plagued by Islamist extremists and gripped by an aid disaster, is "one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world," the United Nations warned on Monday, as the United States and France differed over how to tackle the crisis.
Almost 350,000 Malians have fled their homes, with about 40 percent of those sheltering in neighbouring countries, said the United Nations. This has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Sahel - a belt of drought-stricken land spanning nearly a dozen impoverished countries on the southern rim of the Sahara from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
"Protection concerns are growing, with widespread reports of serious human rights violations from sexual violence and child recruitment to stoning and mutilations of criminal suspects," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council. "Northern Mali ... (is) one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world."
Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some allied with al Qaeda, have hijacked the revolt.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautiously recommended last month that the Security Council approve an African Union military operation to take back northern Mali, contingent on political, human rights, training and operational benchmarks being met.
France has circulated a draft resolution to approve such a mission, but the United States has countered with a proposal that the operation be split into two missions that would be mandated separately by the 15-member council, diplomats said.
The United States would like the Security Council to first approve a mission focused on training the Malian army and pursuing a political process before then mandating an international military intervention to retake the north of Mali from the extremists, diplomats said.
France, which has seven nationals held hostage in the desert region, opposes the idea of mandating two missions and wants the council to adopt a single resolution this month, diplomats said.
One senior Security Council diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the United States was "highly sceptical about the way the French want to go" and have strong doubts about whether a military mission could be successful.
"The US was completely unsatisfied with the state of planning by (West African regional body) ECOWAS for the mission; there's little trust in the African troop contributors that they can do the job, and little trust in the Malian army," he said.
"We are at the beginning of a very long and maybe winding and difficult road toward a resolution," the diplomat said.
Diplomats said the United States believes ECOWAS cannot provide appropriately-trained troops to take on the battle-hardened militants in a desert combat zone.