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U.N. Holds Emergency Meeting On Mali Crisis

In the west African nation of Mali, Islamist forces who took control of the north of the country, are now pushing south. They are threatening the government's control of what was once one of Africa's more stable democracies.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session last night. On the agenda: dramatic developments in the West African nation of Mali. Over the past two days, Islamist rebel groups linked to al-Qaida, groups that already control the northern half of the country, have made a successful push south. The Islamist militants took over northern Mali last year. And the new government there has been seeking international military help to take back the country.

NPR's Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, is monitoring the situation and joins us on the line to tell us more. Good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

MONTAGNE: Update us, if you will, Ofeibea, on exactly what is happening today in Mali.

QUIST-ARCTON: We have seen fighting in the heart of the country. The rebels claim to have taken the town of Kona, which isn't so far from Mopti - the gateway between the North, which is controlled by the rebels, and the government-controlled South. And that's why the Security Council has held this meeting, because there is a fear that the hundred thousand or so people who live in Mopti may be under threat.

And we're being told that this is not only a regional threat to West Africa and the Sahel, but a global threat by terrorist organizations and groups.

MONTAGNE: And of course, again, some of these groups are linked to an Africa version of al-Qaida. The U.N. Security Council meeting last night - what was the outcome of that?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they called for the swift deployment of an African-led force which they have already approved last month. But Renee, the problem is there's no real timetable. We've been told that first there has to be training by the U.S., the former colonial power, France, and others - of the Malian army. And this is the same Malian army that said it wasn't given the wherewithal to fight the rebellion in the first place.

And we're talking about rebels who, some of them, crossed from Libya where they were fighting with Moammar Gadhafi, heavily armed. But the questions are, when is this African-led force supposed to deploy? We're told in the fall, September or so. But obviously the crisis is now. Also a political roadmap dealing with the political concerns. So it's all a little uncertain about when things might happen.

MONTAGNE: Well, where does Mali then go from here?

QUIST-ARCTON: Renee, this is the question. Because you have the Malian president asking the former colonial power, France, and the U.N. Security Council, to help militarily, but they've already said no boots on the ground. So we'll see. But you have these Islamist jihadists in the North who have imposed strict Sharia law, who are forcing women to be veiled, who are cutting off people's limbs for alleged crimes, who have already destroyed ancient Sufi Muslim tombs in fabled cities like Timbuktu.

So the question is, if there is going to be a regional force, when will it be sent? And can it fight the rebels?

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined us on the line from Accra, Ghana. Thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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