Mali?s president has asked France for military help to fight off an offensive by Al-Qaeda linked Islamists, and Paris will announce on Friday what action it will take, according to diplomats.
Alarm over an advance by Islamist forces was raised after a UN Security Council meeting that called for the ?rapid? deployment of an African-led intervention force to help Mali authorities.
France could take military action even sooner as the Islamists move out of their stronghold in northern Mali and seize new towns on the road to the capital Bamako, diplomats said.
Mali?s interim president Dioncounda Traore has requested ?military assistance? from French President Francois Hollande, a UN diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
?It basically said: ?help ? France?,? US ambassador Susan Rice told reporters in describing Traore?s letter.
France?s UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, declined to say how his country would respond, telling reporters: ?The nature of the answer I can?t tell you, it will be announced in Paris tomorrow.? Hollande himself is expected to disclose the measures he plans to take.
?France is gravely concerned by this deteriorating situation that poses a real, direct and immediate threat to regional and international peace and security,? Araud said.
?This terrorist attack weakens even more the stability of Mali and therefore that of its neighbors.?
The sustainability of the Malian government and protection of the civilian population were at stake, he added.
?It is therefore urgent to act against this threat and work to restore the stability and the unity of Mali.?
A Security Council statement expressed ?grave concern? at the capture of the town of Konna in central Mali by ?terrorists and extremist groups.?
The 15-member council reiterated a call for all countries ?to assist the settlement of the crisis in Mali and, in particular, to provide assistance to the Malian defense and security forces in order to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations and associated groups.?
The panel also called for the ?rapid deployment? of the proposed African force.
Rebels and allied Islamists took northern Mali in March last year, seizing on the chaos after a military coup in the capital.
The Security Council last month unanimously approved sending a 3,300 strong African-led intervention force to help reconquer northern Mali.
But the advance by the Islamists into government-held territory is a new blow to efforts to contain the radical armed groups that western governments fear could turn the country into a terrorist safe haven.
Political tensions in Bamako, where the coup leaders still hold considerable influence, doubts about the Malian army, the African force and funding for any military operation, have all clouded preparations to take on the Islamists.
Rice said doubts were raised in the emergency meeting late Thursday about the capability of the Malian army.
?One of the things we discussed is the extent to which the Malians are ready and willing to defend their own country,? she said.
Source : AFP