UNITED NATIONS — UN chief Ban Ki-moon Wednesday urged world leaders "not to abandon" the Sahel region, but urged caution amid calls for military intervention to flush out armed Islamist rebels in northern Mali.
"The region needs your attention, your focus. Do not abandon it and regret it later," Ban told a high-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
"The Sahel is at a critical juncture. Political turmoil, extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies are combining to create a perfect storm of vulnerability," Ban said as he opened the talks.
"The people and governments of the region need urgent international support."
But he warned: "Any proposed military solution to the security crisis in northern Mali should be considered extremely carefully.
"This could have significant humanitarian consequences, including further displacement and restrictions on humanitarian access."
The Sahel, is a vast area of west Africa spreading across some eight countries, including Mali, Niger, Chad and Nigeria.
This year, more than 18 million people in the region have been hit by a severe food and nutrition crisis, with some 1.1 million children at risk of acute malnutrition, according to aid organizations.
The instability in northern Mali has led 400,000 people to leave their homes, with more than half fleeing into neighboring countries, straining the infrastructure of already poor western African nations.
Chaos erupted in Mali in March when military putschists seized power in the capital, ousting President Amadou Toumani Toure, only to see the north and east fall to Tuareg rebels and Islamist militias linked to Al-Qaeda.
French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday urged the global community to help defuse the crisis in Mali by giving United Nations backing to a West African-led military intervention.
Mali has sent a letter to the United Nations formally seeking authorization for a West African-led military force.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has 3,300 regional troops on standby but wants UN approval and has been awaiting the go-ahead from Mali.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »