UNITED NATIONS — The United States and France want the United Nations to back an African-led peacekeeping force to restore order in northern Mali, where Tuareg militants and al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists have expanded their reach since the March coup against the civilian government in Bamako.
French President Francois Hollande says the time has come for the U.N. Security Council to approve an African-led force for Mali.
President Hollande says a force under the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States would help combat terrorism in the Sahel region and help Mali reorganize its military to meet future threats.
Hollande spoke at a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the meeting that chaos and violence in Mali threaten to undermine stability throughout the region as the danger has grown beyond what she calls violent extremists imposing a brutal ideology.
"We now have drug traffickers and arms smugglers finding safe havens and porous borders, providing them a launching pad to extend their reach not only throughout the region but beyond," said Clinton.
So Clinton says it is time for U.N. action to support a regional intervention force.
"We have to train the security forces in Mali, help them dislodge the extremists, protect human rights, and defend borders," Clinton added. "We have seen the success of African-led efforts to do just that in Somalia and in Cote d'Ivoire and elsewhere."
Clinton says Mali's interim government must meet its April deadline for fair and transparent elections free from the influence of soldiers who toppled the previous government.
"Because in the end, only a democratically-elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion, and restore the rule of law," Clinton explained.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says Mali is a problem that West African leaders cannot solve on their own.
"In northern Mali, you are not dealing with just one group," said Jonathan. "You are dealing with three to four different groups with different interests. Some of the interests are purely selfish and anti-social that nobody can allow, that nobody can accommodate. People who want to protect their drug business cannot be allowed to use northern Mali as a sanctuary."
That instability comes as humanitarian conditions worsen across the Sahel. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting that the region is at a critical juncture with political turmoil, extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies combining to create a perfect storm of vulnerability.