Mali's defence minister said Monday that very little had been done to set up a possible military intervention by a West African force in the country's Islamist-occupied north.
"Unfortunately, beyond declarations in principle and development of operational procedures, very little has been done on the ground," Colonel Yamoussa Camara told a meeting of army chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc.
The meeting in Bamako is aimed at finalising arrangements for the deployment of a 3,300-strong force of west African soldiers which ECOWAS has agreed to send to northern Mali.
The UN has asked for more information on the size, means and plans of the proposed force before granting it a mandate.
The vast desert region, larger than France or Texas, was occupied by armed Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the chaos that followed a military coup in late March.
The groups have imposed strict Islamic law, prompting outrage when they stoned an unmarried couple to death last month and cut off the hand of a thief last week.
In the fabled city of Timbuktu they destroyed ancient World Heritage shrines, declaring them "haram", or forbidden by Islam.
An internal document at the extraordinary summit seen by AFP said the initial role of the force would be to protect transitional authorities in Bamako who took over in April from the coup-leaders, who have continued meddling in the political process.
A second phase envisions training the Malian army, which is disorganised and under-equipped, before an intervention in the north to win back territory from the Islamists.
The troops are also expected to provide security to tens of thousands of citizens who fled their homes in the north in the wake of the occupation.© ANP/AFP