The West African bloc ECOWAS has 3,300 troops on standby but the United Nations has expressed reservations and warned a deployment could take another year.
“Special emphasis is required on the need to send, without further delay, an international force tasked with removing the terrorist threat from our sub-region,” African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi said.
The current AU head, also the president of Benin, was speaking in the capital of Niger at the opening of a summit of the Conseil de l’Entente (Council of the Accord), a six-member regional cooperation body.
“I reiterate our call for the Security Council to authorise the deployment of an international force as soon as possible to help liberate northern Mali,” Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said.
“Our sub-region faces unprecedented threats, including terrorism and organised crime, which together make for an explosive situation. They will not spare any of our countries,” he said.
Niger is one of the countries most at risk of a spillover from the crisis in Mali, where militants groups with ties to Al-Qaeda and drug traffickers took advantage of a failed coup and a Tuareg rebellion to take control of the entire north.
A UN resolution authorising a military intervention in Mali is expected by year’s end but top officials from the world body have warned any deployment was unlikely before September 2013.