The chairperson of the African Union (A.U.), Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma emphasised the need for rapid deployment of an international force in Mali, in a meeting with representatives of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday.

Members of the UNSC are expected to meet later on Wednesday to debate the deployment of an African-led International Mission in Mali (Afisma) in the troubled northern part of the country where hard-line Islamist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have struck alliances with smugglers and drug traffickers and seized control of an area.

Mali has been roiled by political instability since March, when a military junta seized power. The military eventually returned to the barracks under international pressure. Since then, the country has been governed by a transitional all-party government.

On Monday, General Carter F. Ham, Commander of U.S. Africa Command (Africom), said AQIM was operating training camps in Mali and was drawing recruits across sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia and Europe.

Hold

“As each day goes by, al-Qaeda and other organisations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali. There is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that,” said General Ham , as reported by The New York Times.

In October, the Security Council asked the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to draw up a detailed concept of operations for deployment in Mali.

Thus far, ECOWAS has committed 3,200 troops to the mission and called upon other African nations to contribute troops and logistics.

Elections

A stabilisation plan drawn up by the African Union envisages a sharp military intervention and free and fair elections as early as the first quarter of 2013.

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