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International Community Backs Mali Military Intervention, Plans More Action

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council members have supported the French military intervention in Mali, while the European Union convened an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council "to take stock of possible EU actions in support of Mali."

The Pentagon has announced plans to provide intelligence, logistics and airlift assistance to French forces in Mali, which it said demonstrated U.S. leaders' resolve "to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are."

In response to the plea for assistance from the Mali government to prevent the capture of cities in the south of the the West African nation by armed rebel groups, a French air operation began on Friday and continued over the weekend after the rebels overran the town of Konna, which had been on the de facto dividing line between those areas under government control and those already occupied by the rebels.

At least six civilians were reportedly killed during the fighting for control of Konna. French forces bombed positions in the north, in Gao and Kidal. The town of Diabaly, 400 kilometer north of capital Bamako, was captured from the Malian Army by Islamist armed groups on Monday.

Amnesty International called on all parties to the armed conflict to ensure civilians are protected.

Since the al-Qaeda-linked extremists gained control of Mali's north in April 2012, they have committed widespread and grave human rights abuses, introducing amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam. They are holding 13 hostages, including six French and four Algerian nationals.

France has deployed some 550 soldiers to Mali under "Operation Serval."

The Security Council last month authorized an African-led force to "use all necessary measures" to take back northern Mali from "terrorist, extremist and armed groups." Troops from several West African countries including Nigeria and Niger are about to be sent in.

EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday chaired a Crisis Platform meeting on Mali and had a phone call with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to review recent developments and actions the EU could take to support the Malian government and people.

She has convened an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council this week to take stock of possible EU actions in support of Mali, including the rapid deployment of the proposed EUTM to train and advise the Malian military, financial and logistical assistance for the deployment of African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), and other direct support to the Malian government to help it cope with the current situation.

"The EU remains in close touch with other international actors, including the African Union, ECOWAS and the U.N., to ensure a united international response to the situation," the High Representative said in a statement.

Talking to reporters on the flight to the Portuguese capital Lisbon on Monday, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. government had "a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali."

"We'll continue to work with [the French] to ensure that ultimately we do stop AQIM and that the responsibility for assuring security in that region will be passed to the African nations to provide a more permanent security for the sake of the world," Panetta said.

"One of the discussions I'll have in Spain regards their concern about what's happening with AQIM in Mali, as well," he said, adding that he would "get a better idea of what these other countries may be doing to assist."

Panetta later landed in Lisbon on the first leg of a week-long trip that will also take him to Madrid, Rome and London.

The U.N. chief said that he hoped the joint military actions would "help to arrest the latest offensive while efforts continue to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2085 (2012) aimed at the full restoration of Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity."

According to a statement released by Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson, preparations also continued for the deployment soon of a U.N. multi-disciplinary team to Mali capital Bamako to carry forward support requested for both the political and security process.

Also on Monday, a French delegation briefed the Security Council in a closed-door session on the military offensive, after which its Permanent Representative told correspondents that Council members had expressed their support and understanding of the operation in the context of resolution 2085.

Renewed clashes in the north, as well as proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability have uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mali. Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee the north, and an estimated five million have been affected by the conflict, says the U.N.

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