By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday endorsed West African political efforts to end unrest in Mali but stopped short of backing military intervention in the West African state, where al Qaeda-linked militants control significant territory.
Mali's neighbors have been seeking U.N. backing for armed intervention to stabilize the country. In June, the Security Council asked the African Union and West African group ECOWAS to explain more precisely what kind of resolution they want.
Thursday's council resolution did not give them the backing they sought, but did not rule it out in the future. It also expressed full support for ECOWAS and AU mediation efforts in Mali.
The French-drafted resolution said the council "expresses its readiness to further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means and modalities of the envisaged deployment."
France and Morocco have been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the idea of the Security Council backing ECOWAS intervention in Mali, though the a number of other council members have been more reluctant.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius welcomed Thursday's resolution.
"The international community must do everything it can to fight terrorism in Mali and the Sahel, which is threatening to destabilize the whole region," he said.
He said France urges all the countries in the region to intensify cooperation in fighting AQIM, or al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.
Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, president of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, told the 15-nation council his group has decided to "speed up the deployment of the ECOWAS stand-by force in Mali."
He said that ECOWAS also would press ahead with mediation efforts. If those fail, Ouedraogo said, ECOWAS would eventually help Mali's army "restore territorial integrity of the country."
Once regarded as a good example of African democracy, Mali was plunged into chaos in March after soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels from the north to seize nearly two thirds of the country.
Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and some allies appropriated that separatist uprising and now control two-thirds of Mali's desert north, which includes the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu where historic and religious sites have been destroyed in recent days.
ECOWAS, an umbrella group of 15 countries aimed at promoting regional cooperation, has intervened militarily in past African conflicts, such as the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
African officials have said previously that Nigeria, Niger and Senegal have pledged to provide the core of a 3,270-member force whose mission would initially be bolstering Mali's fragmented army and stabilizing political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held north if talks fail.
(Addditional reporting by Maria-Victoria Buffery; Editing by Doina Chiacu)