West African leaders have approved a military strategy to help Mali retake control of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.
Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on an African force made up of some 3,000 troops with a one-year mandate.
The majority of the troops would come from ECOWAS nations, with several countries already committing support.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the intervention force was needed to prevent “costly consequences” not just in Mali but the whole of Africa.
” One of the lessons, years of conflict management in our region has taught us, is to treat conflict in one country as a regional challenge requiring a common regional response. This approach makes sense because the crises we have witnessed across West Africa in the past two decades have often generated consequences that have extended beyond these sources and countries of origin.''
The plan also calls for negotiations, but warns that rebel groups have to be committed to Mali as one nation under a secular, central government.
The proposal will be submitted to the United Nations Security Council for review.
Mali has been in chaos since a March 22 military coup toppled the elected government and paved the way for armed groups to seize the north.
More than 300,000 people have fled northern Mali this year, many of them into neighboring countries. Rights groups say those who remained are being subjected to serious human rights violations as Islamist militants impose a harsh version of Islamic law.