International Leaders Meet in Mali Amid Push for Military Intervention
Mali was plunged into chaos in March after a military ruler overthrew the president
By Faith Karimi CNN
October 19, 2012(CNN) -- International leaders meet in the Malian capital Friday to weigh in on military intervention as al Qaeda-linked rebels tighten their grip in the north of the country.
The meeting will include officials from the European Union, United Nations and West African states.
"We want Mali to go back to its original democratic, united and developing country status," said Dlamini Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission.
"The crisis has the potential of spreading beyond the region. So it is a very important issue for the African Union, for the continent and for peace in the world."
Zuma is among a contingent of officials attending the meeting in Bamako.
Malians for and against military intervention have protested on the streets of the capital in recent days, highlighting a divide in citizens' opinion.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that gives regional leaders 45 days to provide detailed plans for an international military intervention. Friday's meeting is a follow-up to the resolution.
"All signs are that at least two other major pieces remain to be worked out: financing and the potential role of non-African powers like France and the United States," said Gregory Mann, an associate professor at Columbia University and a contributing analyst for the African Arguments website.
Mali was plunged into chaos in March after a military ruler overthrew the president, shaking one of West Africa's most stable democracies.
The coup leader stepped down in May and transferred power to a civilian transitional government. However, uncertainty looms as Islamist militants roaming the north wage a campaign of destruction.
Soon after the coup, ethnic Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants took advantage of the power vacuum to seize the northern part of the country.
Two groups with ties to al Qaeda later toppled the Tuareg movement, and now control two-thirds of northern Mali, an area the size of France.
"It's hard to imagine a solution to this conflict that does not involve at least the real and credible threat of military force," Mann said. "Whether that threat will materialize should be much clearer after" Friday.
West African leaders and the transitional government have asked the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention to oust the rebels.
The resolution approved last week tasked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with working with African leaders to submit to the Security Council within 45 days "detailed and actionable recommendations" in preparation for the deployment of an international military force in Mali.
As leaders work to find a solution, grim reports of human rights violations are emerging in the north.
Radical Islamists are compiling a list of unmarried mothers, raising fears of cruel punishments such as stoning, amputations and executions, a senior United Nations official said this month.
The list will include women who have had children out of wedlock and those who are unmarried and pregnant, according to Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights.
The Islamists have vowed to impose a stricter form of Islamic law, or Sharia. They say the law condemns relations outside marriage.
Extremists have conducted public executions, amputations, floggings and other punishments.
In addition to human rights violations, Islamists razed tombs near the desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday -- the latest attacks targeting cultural heritage sites in the north.
The rebels have destroyed tombs and shrines in the city, which features various ancient and prominent burial sites.
They regard such shrines as idolatrous and thus prohibited by their religion. Sufi shrines, which they consider sacrilegious, have been subjected to the most attacks. Sufism is a mystical dimension of Islam considered offbeat by Islamic hardliners.
Journalist Katarina Hoije in Bamako, Mali, contributed to this report.
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