Mali conflict: UN backs France's military intervention

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Media captionThe BBC's Mark Doyle reports from the Mali capital Bamako, where he is one of the few correspondents on the ground

The UN Security Council has unanimously backed France's military intervention in Mali to fight Islamist rebels, officials have said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped the intervention would help restore "Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity".

Thousands of African troops are due to join Malian and French forces to help push back the rebels' offensive.

France intervened on Friday after the Islamists began advancing southwards.

French authorities said they had feared that the rebels would march on the capital, Bamako, creating a grave security threat for the wider region.

On Monday, the Security Council convened in New York for an emergency meeting at France's request.

After the meeting, France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said his country had the "understanding and support" of the 14 other Security Council members.

But he added that France also wanted the deployment of a West African force to happen "as quickly as possible".

The force will be deployed under UN Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed in December and allows for a 3,000-strong African-led mission to intervene in Mali later this year in the absence of any negotiated solution.

The African troops are expected in Mali in "coming days and weeks", Mr Araud said, adding that the Nigerian commander of the force was already on the ground.

Mr Ban echoed Mr Araud's call for rapid deployment of an African force.

"The Secretary-General welcomes that bilateral partners are responding, at the request and with the consent of the government of Mali, to its call for assistance to counter the troubling push southward by armed and terrorist groups," his office said in a statement.

However the Islamist advance and French response also "underscore the urgency of implementing all aspects of the resolution".

'Mass displacement'

France says its air strikes have forced back Islamists who took control of northern Mali last year, though the rebels seized one town on Monday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the West African force would include 600 troops from Nigeria, 500 each from Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Senegal, and 300 from Benin.

He said France's involvement would last "a matter of weeks".

France has sent about 550 troops to the central town of Mopti and to Bamako, and a defence ministry official told Reuters troop numbers would increase to 2,500 in coming days.

At least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have died in Mali. More than 100 militants are reported to have been killed.

Aid workers said many people had been fleeing areas targeted by French air strikes over the past four days.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said the humanitarian situation was "fast deteriorating"

"Mass displacement of the population has already been observed, casualties have been reported and we're trying our best to address the humanitarian needs of the population," said Ali Naraghi.

France intensified its air strikes on rebel targets over the weekend, with its aircraft also bombing the town of Gao in eastern Mali. On Monday witnesses told AFP news agency that there had been air strikes on Douentza for a fourth consecutive day.

Residents in several northern towns also told AFP that Islamists in several key northern towns including Gao and Douentza had either fled or taken cover from the air strikes by Monday.

Rebels of the al-Qaeda-linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), said that France would pay for its intervention.

Meanwhile, Algeria, which has allowed French jets to cross its airspace, said it had closed its long desert border with Mali.

Islamist groups and secular Tuareg rebels took advantage of chaos following a military coup to seize northern Mali in April 2012.

But the Islamists soon took control of the region's major towns, sidelining the Tuaregs.

One Islamist group, Ansar Dine, began pushing further south last week, seizing Konna.

The town has since been recaptured by Malian troops with French aerial support.

The battle for Mali

Image caption French forces have bombed rebel bases in Mali, where Islamist rebels have threatened to advance on the capital Bamako from their strongholds in the north. France said it had decided to act to stop the offensive, which could create "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe".
Image caption The landlocked area of West Africa was the core of ancient empires going back to the 4th Century. The French colonised Mali, then known as French Sudan, at the end of the 19th Century, while Islamic religious wars created theocratic states in the region.
Image caption Mali gained independence in 1960 but endured droughts, rebellions and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992. In the early 1990s, the nomadic Tuareg of the north began an insurgency over land and cultural rights.
Image caption The insurgency gathered momentum in 2007, and was exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war. Tuareg nationalists, alongside Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda, seized control of the north in 2012 after a military coup by soldiers frustrated by government efforts against the rebels.
Image caption The fighting in the north and the establishment of a harsh form of Islamic law has forced thousands to flee their homes - some estimates say more than half the northern population has fled south or across borders into neighbouring countries.
Image caption In January 2013, the Islamists captured the central city of Konna. France, responding to appeals for help from the Mali president, has sent about 550 troops to the Mopti and to Bamako, which is home to about 6,000 French nationals. French jets have also launched air strikes.

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