BRUSSELS — The European Union said Monday it was ready to back the deployment of an African stabilisation force under UN mandate in Mali, and threatened sanctions against those post a threat to democratic change.
EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels asked EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton to make "concrete proposals" on support for "the possible deployment of a well-prepared ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) force in Mali, under a UN mandate and in conjunction with a government of national unity and the African Union."
In March, Mali was rocked by a coup, which opened the way for Tuareg forces and Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda-linked groups, to take control of the desert northern part of the vast west African country.
The Islamists then sidelined the main Tuareg separatist group and took charge of the main northern towns, in some of which they have laid down strict Islamic sharia law.
Politicians in the capital Bamako are trying to form a national unity government and the putschists have stood down from power, though they remain an active force.
Malian authorities have sought aid from ECOWAS to help reclaim the north, but the United Nations has thus far withheld a mandate, demanding more clarity from the 15-nation west African body on its mission.
"The EU is ready to enact targeted sanctions against those who continue to threaten the process of a democratic transition, peace, security and the stability of Mali," added the joint declaration issued by the foreign ministers.
The text expressed particular concern over the situation in northern Mali, an area bigger than France, which it said was controlled by terrorist groups and violent extremists "working in conjunction with international criminal circles, including the drug trade."
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