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West African Ministers Mull Mali Troop Request

Fighters of the Islamic group, the al-Qaeda offshoot MUJAO stand guard on a tank abandoned by the Malian Army, near Gao airport, August 7, 2012.
West African defense and foreign ministers met Monday on when and how to deploy troops to quell the unrest in Mali, where Islamist militants control the northern part of the country.

The Economic Community of West African States is trying to end political crises in both Mali and Guinea Bissau, where a coup occurred in April. The leaders met in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, to consider the request by Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, for military assistance to combat the Islamists and retake the north. Mali has asked for logistical and air support, but not combat troops.

Before the meeting, an ECOWAS spokesman Sonny Ugoh said the regional group is awaiting a U.N. Security Council meeting on Mali before deciding on a date for troop deployment. But he said that valuable time has been lost in attempting to resolve the crisis, and that Islamist groups believed to be linked to al-Qaida now control two-thirds of Mali.

The militant groups, Ansar Dine and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, have moved to enforce a strict version of Islamic law.

Islamists have destroyed a mausoleum of a Muslim saint, Cheikh El-Kebir, in the northern part of the country it controls. A reporter for VOA French to Africa Service says Islamist leaders in the region confirmed the destruction on Saturday of the shrine. The militant groups say such shrines are forbidden under Islam.

Some information for this story was provided by AFP.