DAKAR — United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the U.N. Security Council should green light (endorse) a regional military offensive to help the Malian army retake the north from Islamic extremists but has stopped short of endorsing U.N. funding for the mission.
Ban gave conditional support to a one-year African Union mission to Mali. His recommendations came via a written report to the U.N. Security Council Wednesday.
Targeted military action, he said, may ultimately be necessary against Al-Qaida-linked fighters in control of northern Mali since April but it should remain a "last resort."
The Security Council is expected to consider the request from the African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS for an intervention mandate on December 5. A resolution granting the mandate could come before the end of the year.
The secretary general said African leaders need to further develop plans for the military operation, including "how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed."
The secretary general called for "urgent action" to prevent northern Mali from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and organized crime. Yet, he warned that a hasty and poorly executed offensive could result in "severe human rights abuses" and further humanitarian fall-out. More than 400,000 people have already fled the north this year.
Ban said opening "broad-based and inclusive" political dialogue remains the priority.
Of the four armed groups in the north, two are Malian-led, the Islamist sect Ansar Dine and Tuareg separatist movement, the MNLA. Both groups have agreed to enter into ECOWAS-mediated negotiations with the Malian government.
ECOWAS special representative to Mali, Aboudou Chaka Toure says the secretary general's recommendations are in line with what ECOWAS is already doing.
But, he says they are dealing with terrorism, which risks to spread like gangrene through Mali and threatens regional and international security. He says ECOWAS is first trying to reason with the Malian armed groups to get them to go back on their declarations of independence or efforts to impose sharia law by force. That is the principal solution, he said, but no one could justify negotiating with terrorists. They must be beaten.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS has committed to raise a force of 3,300 soldiers.
The mission would include training, equipping and reorganizing the Malian army which analysts say is still in shambles following a March 22 military coup and subsequent retreat from the north.
The Secretary General advised against U.N. funding for the mission, which is reportedly estimated at as much as $500 million for the first year.
Toure of ECOWAS said they are not proposing war for war's sake.
He says they are requesting international funding to stop what could soon become a threat to global peace. If they are not all on the same page, he says perhaps there is still time to discuss. But they must fight terrorism, and those who disagree, he said, will take responsibility for their choice.
Experts say any regional offensive to northern Mali is not likely until the second half of 2013.
There is concern both in Mali and in the international community that Islamist militants, including those linked to al-Qaida's North Africa branch, AQIM, will use the time to further solidify their positions and bring in reinforcements.