West African leaders gathering for Mali summit
Bamako: West African leaders headed to a special Mali summit in Ivory Coast today to discuss how to step up their role as the French-led military intervention to oust Islamic extremists from power entered its second week.
Neighboring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation in Mali, aimed at preventing militants from advancing further south toward the capital.
While some initial contributions from Togo and Nigeria have arrived, concerns about the mission have delayed other countries from sending their promised troops so far.
Charles Koffi Diby, Ivory Coast`s foreign affairs minister, said that Mali`s neighbors must "face up to the weight of our responsibilities in conducting and coordinating military operations in Mali."
In today`s meeting, the big issue will be sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.
Nigerian Gen. Shehu Usman Abdulkadir is expected to be named the force commander.
As the military intervention entered its second week, Malian forces had reclaimed the key town of Konna whose capture prompted the French action, according to French and Malian military officials.
However, phone lines to the town were still down making it difficult to independently corroborate the claim.
France said it was keeping up the pressure around another key town, Diabaly, which was taken by the Islamists on Monday.
French forces have moved around Diabaly to cut off supplies to the Islamist extremists, said a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss sensitive security matters.
Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa`s most stable democracies with the majority of its 15.8 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam.
That changed last March, following a coup in the capital which created the disarray that allowed Islamist extremists to take over the main cities in the distant north.
The U.N. Refugee agency yesterday said that the fighting in Mali could force as many as 700,000 people to flee their homes in the coming months.
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