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UN names Italy's Prodi as envoy to Africa's Sahel

The United Nations has named former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi as the new special envoy for the troubled North African region of Sahel.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in New York on Tuesday that Prodi was his preferred candidate to take up the newly-established position.

The 73-year-old ex-premier gained official approval after none of the 15 members of the Security Council objected. One of Prodi's key early tasks will be to oversee the UN's response to the situation in Mali.

Mali's government in Bamako and its West African neighbors want the UN to approve a pan-African military intervention in northern Mali. The entire north of the country was seized by Islamist rebels who hijacked a Tuareg-led rebellion earlier this year.

"He [Prodi] will help generate, sustain and coordinate international engagement in support of national efforts of Sahelian countries to address the multifaceted crisis, including with an initial focus on Mali," Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky told reporters.

The Mali conflict has exacerbated humanitarian problems and security difficulties in the Sahel region, on southern edge of the Sahara desert.

The Sahel is an ecoclimatic term for the land between the Sahara desert and the African savannah. It touches upon areas of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.

rc/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)