African Union endorses Mali military intervention

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West African leaders at an emergency summit in Abuja on Sunday approved a 3,300-strong force for Mali to wrest control of the north from Islamist extremists as fears grow over risks they pose to the region and beyond.

Lamamra said he believes the U.N. will pass a resolution approving the mission before the end of the year, but did not confirm when the first troops could be deployed.

The troops are expected to come from members of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but also possibly from countries outside the regional bloc as well, according to Lamamra.

“There can be room for troops that would be contributed by non-ECOWAS countries, African non-ECOWAS countries, so there is some flexibility on that,” he said.

Mali imploded after a coup in Bamako in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had re-launched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict Islamic law, meting out punishments including stoning and destroying World Heritage shrines.

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