African Leaders Call For U.N. Mandate For Mali Mission

West African leaders on Thursday called for a regional military operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels in north Mali to be transformed into a U.N. peacekeeping mission as quickly as possible to secure desperately needed funding.

France sent troops into its former colony last month to drive out Islamist fighters, claiming their seizure of Mali’s north last year posed a threat to international security.

Paris hopes that from March it can start withdrawing its 4,000 troops but is awaiting the effective deployment of an African force (AFISMA), plagued by logistical and financing setbacks.

Meeting in Ivory Coast’s capital Yamoussoukro, presidents from West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS backed calls from France, the United States and Mali itself for the mission to receive a U.N. peacekeeping mandate.

“This shouldn’t distract from ongoing operations on the ground,” ECOWAS commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told Reuters.

“It’s simply an indication that, once peace has returned, we need the support of the United Nations system both for logistical and financial support.”

Some two thirds of the 8,000 troops of the African-led mission (AFISMA) have deployed to Mali.

Many still lack the capacity to carry out combat operations and remain in southern Mali, leaving French forces and around 2,000 troops from Chad to secure northern towns and hunt down Islamist fighters hiding in desert and mountain redoubts.

After struggling for months to secure funding for its deployment, international donors pledged over $455 million for Mali at a meeting in Addis Ababa last month.

With the number of troops more than doubling since deployment plans were first hashed out last year, ECOWAS projects the cost of the mission at nearly $1 billion this year.

Transformation to a peacekeeping mission would ensure funding from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and facilitate the deployment of air assets essential for moving troops in Mali’s vast northern desert.

However, a decision by the U.N. Security Council remains weeks, if not months, away. France’s U.N. envoy said on Wednesday that the Security Council would ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report by end-March on the possibility of creating a peacekeeping force.

Despite the rapid French advance which has seen the Islamists’ former urban strongholds rapidly retaken, security on the ground in Mali remains tenuous, amid a mounting wave of guerilla raids on towns and suicide attacks.

French and Chadian forces are currently hunting die-hard Islamists holed up in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. Algerian television reported on Thursday that French troops there had killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a leading al Qaeda field commander.

Obama to cite new technologies in rights abuses: report

President Barack Obama will issue an order on Monday to allow imposition of sanctions on foreign nationals who use new technologies such as cell-phone tracking and Internet monitoring to help carry out human rights abuses, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks after touring the Port of Tampa in Florida

The newspaper quoted a senior administration official as saying that the executive order was designed to target companies and individuals assisting Iran and Syria, but future orders could expand the list.

The paper said the order noted that while social media and cell phones had helped democracy advocates organize in the Middle East, they had also enabled security services of autocratic nations such as Syria and Iran to conduct surveillance of dissidents and block access to the Internet.

The order will acknowledge these dangers and the need to adapt U.S. national-security policy to a world being remade rapidly by technology, the Post quoted the official as saying.
It said Obama would announce the move in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The newspaper noted it comes at a time when his policy toward Syria — where a year-long government crackdown has killed thousands of civilians — has been criticized by Republicans seeking the party’s nomination for the November 6 U.S. presidential election.

The Post said Obama would say that he had asked for a first-ever National Intelligence Estimate — a consensus view of all U.S. intelligence agencies — to include an appraisal of the potential for mass killings in other countries and their implication for U.S. interests.

As part of the initiative, the president will also create a high-level panel to serve as a clearinghouse for real-time intelligence, policymaking and other issues related to mass killing.

He will also encourage the participation of the private sector through a program of grants to encourage firms to develop technologies to help people vulnerable to mass killings better detect and quickly alert others to impending dangers.

The Post said the White House would announce new sanctions against both Syria and Iran on Monday. It said these would include a visa ban and financial restrictions on two Syrian “entities,” one Syrian individual and four Iranian “entities.”

Administration officials did not identify the targets of the sanctions and say the term “entities” describes both government agencies and private companies in Iran and Syria.

The Washington Post said Samantha Power, the National Security Council’s senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, would chair the Atrocities Prevention Board, a panel whose creation was announced in August.