PARIS — As Chadian troops helped secure a strategic desert town in Mali, representatives of European and African nations meeting in Brussels Tuesday discussed the possibility of creating an international force to help stabilize the West African country.
Officials said that any decision on turning a West African military mission to stabilize Mali into an international one must be approved by the United Nations and the Malian government.
But Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, who heads the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS Commission, suggested it was a viable option.
At a news conference, Ouedraogo said the problems in Mali are not just a question of national or regional security, but of international security. He said the international community must make sure northern Mali should not be used as a sanctuary for terrorists and narcotraffickers.
His remarks followed talks among EU, African and United Nations representatives on how to coordinate efforts to help stabilize Mali following the Islamist militant insurgency and political turmoil. Mali's government has promised to abide by a roadmap that includes holding democratic elections.
European Union Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Europe is already beginning to make good on its pledge to help train Mali's military - and is designating more than $400 million in assistance this year for the troubled West African country.
"All of us are committed to supporting and accompanying the people of Mali on their path back to freedom and development," she said. "And in that context, we support the adoption of the roadmap."
So far, France is the only Western country to send combat forces to Mali. The French offensive that has beaten back the Islamists has drawn praise not only from Africans, but Western leaders - including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who met Monday with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.
"Your decisive action is not only in the interest of France but quite frankly of the United States and everyone," he said.
France has also increased security at home, fearing retribution. On Tuesday, French police arrested four suspected Islamists outside Paris as part of a probe into the recruitment of volunteers to join al-Qaida-linked rebels in the Sahel.