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UN and African leaders seek solution for Mali

World leaders have met in Bamako to discuss a possible military intervention to reclaim Mali's north, which has been occupied by Islamist rebels. European leaders in Brussels have also vowed to "speed up" efforts.

UN and African Union officials met in Mali's capital on Friday to begin drawing up a plan for possible military intervention to resolve months of conflict in the country's north.

The UN said it would "support planning efforts for a possible force" to "return the areas occupied by terrorist groups and criminal networks," UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said.

Eliasson added that a transition process should "engage in talks with rebel groups in the North, which represent the legitimate grievances of communities which have suffered from years of marginalization," but warned that these groups must cut off all ties to terrorist organizations.

Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda have been in control in the north since April, when they took advantage of a power vacuum created by a coup in March.

Trying to lend support

The United Nations and the African Union, in a show of support, said they would open permanent offices in Bamako to coordinate their respective actions in north Mali.

In a document adopted during the talks involving Mali's west and north African neighbors, the African Union, the United Nations and the European Union, delegates called for sanctions against terrorist networks and Malian rebels who refuse to break ties to them and join talks.

While some leaders are calling for military action, others still prefer to seek diplomatic resolutions.

Representatives from countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which are the only ones expected to send troops for a military intervention force in Mali, will begin laying out their strategy for recapturing the area. But it is still unclear whether or when such a force would be put into action.

The interim president of Mali, Dioncounda Traore, asked again on Friday for international support to reclaim the north of Mali, and he pleaded with the European Union to lift the sanctions against the country.

"The [Malian] army needs the support of ECOWAS and the African Union," Traore said.

Europeans chime in

In Europe, meanwhile, officials in Brussels pledged on Friday to "speed up planning of a possible [EU] military operation to help reorganize and train the Malian defense forces."

"The EU will maintain the option to adopt targeted restrictive measures against those involved in the armed groups in northern Mali and those hindering the return to constitutional order," said the resolution approved on Friday.

tm/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)