UN envoy rules out international action in Mali as Nigeria commits 600 troops

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Nigeria says it will supply 600 of the 3 300 allocated by West African states to retake Mali’s northern region from Islamist extremists.

Deputy Defence Minister Olusola Obada said that Nigeria expects to send 600 troops as part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “I want to say that today, the Sahel is of great concern to everybody in the sub-region and the international community. The issue of the Sahel is not an issue localized within West Africa and Africa alone.”

Obada’s comments come as the U.N. envoy to the troubled Sahel region yesterday ruled out an international military option in Mali before next summer, saying everything should be done to avoid war.

European leaders are growing increasingly anxious that Mali could turn into a platform for militant attacks, including in Europe, as African leaders put the finishing touches to an international intervention plan to retake Mali’s north from a patchwork of armed groups, some of them linked to al Qaeda. The ECOWAS force will be composed of troops from Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo and possibly countries outside the region.

France, Spain, Italy and Belgium have indicated willingness to take part in the mission, an EU official said. But Romano Prodi, recently appointed envoy, played down the idea of imminent action during a trip to Rabat, a Moroccan foreign ministry official said.
“He said that military action in north Mali will not be possible before September or October next year,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “In his view, military action needs preparation, everything must be done for peace and to avoid war.”

West African leaders will this month seek a U.N. mandate to dispatch a mainly West African force of 3 300 to Mali tasked with rebuilding its army and then backing operations to win back the occupied desert zones.

Islamist gunmen fought Tuareg separatist rebels on Monday in a battle for control of the town of Menaka in Mali’s northern desert, close to the border with Niger.

The independence-seeking MNLA group declared an independent Tuareg homeland in April after routing government troops in the wake of a March coup, but it has since lost control of the zone to Islamists and criminal networks.