France Says Mali Requests Military Help to Free North

Posted September 5th, 2012 at 8:35 am (UTC-5)
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A French official says Mali has formally asked its West African neighbors to help free the country's north from Islamist militants.

France's special representative for the Sahel region, Jean Felix-Paganon, says Mali is asking West African bloc ECOWAS to send “military assistance to stabilize the country and especially to reconquer the north.”

The official told reporters late Tuesday that he learned of the request during a meeting in Burkina Faso's capital with Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore.

ECOWAS has said it is ready to deploy a standby force of some 3,000 troops to Mali, where Islamist militant groups are attempting to enforce a harsh form of Sharia, or Islamic law.

One of the groups, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, seized another town this week, moving closer to the territory controlled by Mali's interim government.

The groups seized control of the north in April, after renegade soldiers overthrew the elected government in the capital, Bamako.

The rebels' hardline interpretation of Islamic law has so far led to the stoning death of an unmarried couple, the amputation of limbs and a ban on non-Islamic music.

One group, Ansar Dine, destroyed ancient Muslim tombs on the grounds that people worshipped at the sites, a practice deemed un-Islamic.

The United States and United Nations have condemned the militants' actions, and U.N. aid agencies say the militants' actions have worsened a humanitarian crisis in the region caused by drought and high food prices.

Mali's interim government has vowed to retake the north.