West Africa Defense Chiefs to Finalize Mali Assistance Mission

Posted September 13th, 2012 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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West African defense chiefs will open a two-day meeting Friday to finalize the deployment of a standby force for military assistance and support requested by Mali.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mission would play a support role in Mali, providing logistical and air support to Malian forces working to retake control of northern areas occupied by Islamist militants.

ECOWAS says the meeting in Abidjan comes after an invitation by Mali's government to deploy the mission.

Mali's government has not publicly confirmed that it asked for the ECOWAS assistance. But, a French special representative to the region and the leader of a March 22 military coup in Mali have both reported the request.

Islamist groups linked to al-Qaida now control about two-thirds of Mali's national territory.

The Islamists, along with Tuareg separatists, seized control of the north in April after the coup in the capital, Bamako. Since then, armed groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO have pushed out the separatists and moved to enforce a strict version of Islamic law.

The United Nations says fighting in the north this year has displaced more than 450,000 people.