ADDIS ABABA — THE African Union (AU) this week urgently sought the United Nations (UN) Security Council’s full support for a proposed intervention force to fight Islamist insurgents occupying northern Mali.

The AU submitted a plan for military intervention in Mali to the UN secretary-general on Tuesday evening, well in advance of the 45-day deadline set by the UN on October 12. AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra said he hoped to see a Security Council resolution before the end of the year.

Under the proposal 3,300 troops will be sent to help Mali’s government regain control of the north, which was seized by Islamist militants and Tuareg separatists following a military coup in March.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north, Malian army sources said. The plan — developed by military experts from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the AU, UN, European Union and other partners — requires UN approval before it can be implemented.

It has been with the secretary-general, who has to submit a report to the Security Council by November 26. Work will then start on pushing through a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The AU has urged the Security Council to give its full support to the proposal and has called for the authorisation of an initial one-year mandate for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma), the new name for the proposed military intervention force.

There is some disagreement as to when troops from Afisma would be ready to be deployed. Ecowas commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told reporters on Tuesday at a conference in Paris: "The force is quite ready. When the UN gives the green light, the deployment will begin immediately."

But UN special envoy Romano Prodi said that Afisma would not be deployed immediately, saying, "You need a long time to prepare a military operation." Security experts and observers agree with Mr Prodi’s assessment, saying that it may take months before a force is ready to retake the north.

In the meantime, the AU is perparing the groundwork. The chairwoman of the AU commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been instructed to initiate consultations with Ecowas on the command and control structure of Afisma.

The aim of these discussions, which must begin before 27 November, is to secure the appointment of the AU special representative and other main officials of the mission so that it can be swiftly deployed.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma, in collaboration with Ecowas, has been charged with securing commitments for troops from African states and making preparations for a donor funding conference, which it is hoped will be convened after the adoption of the Security Council resolution.

French President Francois Hollande, who met with Ms Dlamini-Zuma in Paris earlier this week, said the EU would provide logistical support and training to the mission, but stressed that France, the former colonial power, would not intervene unilaterally in the crisis. European states met yesterday to discuss in detail EU assistance to the mission.

Mali’s neighbour Algeria, which is not a member of Ecowas, is concerned about the use of military invention, preferring negotiations.

Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups occupying the north, which has ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has indicated that it is willing to enter into talks with the interim government.

Reuters