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France eyes new UN resolution on Mali

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PARIS (AP) — France's defense minister said Monday he expects the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution approving a multinational African force to help stabilize Mali, amid Western concerns that Mali could become a breeding ground for jihadist groups.

France-Culture radio quoted Jean-Yves Le Drian as saying the new resolution will be adopted before Christmas.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday that 14 of the 15 U.N. Security Council members supported the position of permanent member France — suggesting that the United States is the lone holdout. Fabius met with Mali's new foreign minister in Paris on Monday, in part to discuss the resolution.

Mali is now divided between a fragile caretaker government in the south — where a military junta toppled the elected leadership in March — and al-Qaida-linked rebels who control the north. The junta headed by coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo is still active and helped oust the prime minister just a week ago.

Former colonial overseer France and other Western nations fear Mali could become a hotbed for terror groups who have already seized hostages in western Africa and could one day mastermind attacks in Europe.

France has been pushing for a quick intervention, fearing that the terror cells now occupying Mali's north will use any delay to further embed themselves in the vast territory, and use it to recruit and train foreign fighters for global jihad. The United States has been advocating for a slower response, starting with trying to train the Malian military and attempting to address the many political grievances that led to the coup in March.

The resolution would allow for the deployment of some 3,300 troops for a mission led by regional bloc ECOWAS, French diplomats said Monday. The U.N.-authorized force, to be known as Misma, would be an intervention force — not peacekeepers — along the lines of the U.N. "Amisom" mission in Somalia, the diplomats said.

A separate mission to "upgrade" Mali's military would involve up to 5,500 more troops, said one of the diplomats, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Separately, the European Union is also planning to send in hundreds of troops, led by a French commander, to help rebuild Mali's army.

France and the United States have had "differences of opinion" in the past that are narrowing, the diplomats said. The United States faced domestic issues about how to help fund the African mission, and differed with the French about whether retraining Mali's army and stabilizing the south would be enough to help the central government wrest back the north, they added.

U.S. officials had also hoped that Mali might be able to hold elections in April as a way to give legitimacy to the central government, the diplomats said. France has argued against elections in the current turmoil, but the diplomats said they believe the presence of the U.N. and the African Union would reduce the power of the junta.

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