UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that France, Senegal and Nigeria have responded to an appeal from Mali's president for help to counter an offensive by al-Qaida-linked militants who control the northern half of the country and are heading south.
The U.N. chief said in an interview with The Associated Press that assisting the Malian defense forces push back against the Islamist armed groups is "very important." The militants captured the city of Konna on Thursday, and were threatening the city of Mopti, which has 100,000 inhabitants.
The secretary-general said he received a letter from Mali's President Dioncounda Traore on Thursday "informing me of his intention to request assistance from French government and other regional powers, which I have brought to (the) urgent attention of the Security Council."
France launched a military operation Friday to help the government of Mali defeat the militants. Ban didn't elaborate on what kind of help Senegal and Nigeria are providing.
Ban responded to a question asking his assessment of the French military action by first referring to Security Council resolution 2085, adopted unanimously on Dec. 20, which authorized an African-led mission composed of regional forces to support Malian authorities in recovering the north -- an area the size of Texas.
Putting the force together "may take some time," the secretary-general said, and "now that these armed Islamist groups are pushing further south, the situation has become much, much more volatile in terms of security as well as human rights and humanitarian situation."
"I know that countries like France, Senegal, Nigeria have responded to the calls of President Traore. I hope that French military deployment will be consistent with the spirit of Security Council resolution 2085," Ban said.
The secretary-general said the resolution clearly states the mission to retake the north must be African-led and in support of Malian authorities.
In a section called "international support," resolution 2085 calls on member states, including from the Sahel, to contribute troops to the mission, to be known as AFISMA. It also urges member states to support AFISMA by providing military training, equipment, intelligence, logistical support "and any necessary assistance in efforts to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations."
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Thursday evening that U.N. resolutions "call on all member states to provide assistance in resolving the Malian crisis in all its aspects, including military and political -- and I emphasize -- to provide support to the authorities of this country to put an end to the terrorist threat."
A press statement issued by the Security Council after that meeting condemned the capture of Kanna and reiterated its call to member states "to assist the settlement of the crisis in Mali and, in particular, to provide assistance to the Malian Defence and Security Forces in order to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations and associated groups." It also called for the rapid deployment of AFISMA.
The secretary-general said that in accordance with another provision of resolution 2085, the U.N. is now trying to deploy a "multi-disciplinary mission" in Mali's capital, Bamako, "as a way to have the continuous and constant presence and consultation with Bamako authorities."