UN supports France's airstrikes in Mali

UN supports France's airstrikes in Mali

France received "extraordinary" support Monday from the United Nations as its jet fighters continued to pound rebel strongholds in the north of Mali, the French envoy to the UN said, dpa reported.

French jets struck the towns of Konna and Diabali, according to French radio station RFI, and residents of Douentza, 800 kilometres north-east of Bamako, also reported aerial bombardment on Monday, the fourth day of French intervention in Mali's conflict.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud, emerging from a two-hour closed door meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, said Paris had received "extraordinary expression of support" for the military action from all council countries, including Russia.

Araud said he gave the 15-nation council a "total transparency" report on his country's bombings in Mali, saying that Paris had been acting in accordance with international law, the UN Charter and at the request of the Malian government.

"Russia said France have acted in the spirit of UN Resolution 2085, which should be now implemented," Araud told reporters.

The resolution, passed in December, authorized the deployment of an African peacekeeping mission to Mali, specified the countries to provide assistance to Mali to blunt the advance of Islamist militants and called for a political process to reconcile Malian parties.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said countries with capabilities were responding to Mali's requests for assistance, which he said should "help to arrest the latest (rebel) offensive, while efforts continue to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2085 aimed at the full restoration of Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity."

Ban said a UN team was expected soon in Bamako to begin providing support for the political and security process in the country under conflict.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said the US was weighing assistance to France, but declined to reveal details. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US military could provide logistical and intelligence support to France.

"We share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven," Nuland said. "We are in consultation with the French now on a number of requests that they have made for support."

EU foreign ministers will hold a special meeting this week to discuss the situation in Mali, the bloc's foreign policy chief said Monday, confirming an earlier announcement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

France should not "stand at Mali's side alone," Fabius said, while also welcoming the "quasi-unanimous" international support Paris has received for its decision to intervene militarily.

The meeting will discuss a "rapid deployment" of an EU training mission to Mali, commissioner Catherine Ashton said.

Other countries, including Denmark, Ghana and Canada also have pledged military support to the intervention.

While NATO was concerned about the "security and stability of the country, the region and beyond," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said: "There has been no request to NATO and no discussion within NATO on this crisis."

International support and preparations were gearing up as the central town of Diabali, about 400 kilometres north-east of the capital Bamako, was taken by rebels after heavy fighting on Monday.

Malian military forces managed to push the rebels out of the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu overnight, a military officer in Bamako told dpa on condition of anonymity.

However, a witness told dpa he had seen rebel fighters from the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJWA) in the town of Gao on Monday.

"Some elements of MUJWA circulate in the streets of Gao," the witness said. He added that airstrikes on Gao, 1,200 kilometres north of Bamako, had stopped.

As French airstrikes spread southwards towards Bamako, Omar Ould Hamaha, a MUJWA leader, warned that the intervention had opened "the doors of hell" and put all French nationals in danger.

France has fallen "into a trap far more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia. And that's just the beginning!" he said, according to Europe 1 radio.

France launched the aerial campaign Friday at Mali's request.

The EU said it would deploy military trainers to Mali, but with no combat role.

"The mission will probably be launched either in the second half of February or at the beginning of March," spokesman Michael Mann said in Brussels.

An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Slovenia and Belgium had indicated willingness to participate in the mission.

Both Britain and Germany said they were ready to provide logistical support to Mali, but would not send troops. British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country's aid would extend to intelligence sharing.

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