By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Friday he wants former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to be his envoy to the troubled Sahel region, where West African states seek U.N. backing for military intervention in Mali.
"I would like to inform you of my intention to appoint Mr. Romano Prodi (Italy) as my Special Envoy for the Sahel," Ban said in a letter to the 15-nation council, obtained by Reuters.
"Mr. Prodi has a long and distinguished career in government and international diplomacy as a consensus-builder, having served as Prime Minister of Italy and President of the European Commission for several years," he wrote to the president of the council, Guatemalan U.N. Ambassador Gert Rosenthal.
Rosenthal informed fellow council members in an accompanying letter that he would acknowledge Ban's decision to appoint Prodi if no objections were presented to him by Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.
Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some al Qaeda allies, hijacked the revolt in the north.
The conflict in Mali has also exacerbated a deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the turbulent Sahel region - a belt of land spanning nearly a dozen of the world's poorest countries on the southern rim of the Sahara - where millions are on the brink of starvation due to drought.
West Africa's regional body, ECOWAS, has mapped out a three- phase operation to help Malian troops recapture the north, and Mali's interim leader, Dioncounda Traore, asked the Security Council earlier this month to authorize the force.
Council diplomats say ECOWAS needs to present a more coherent and comprehensive plan for military intervention in Mali before they authorize it.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said on Thursday that he would shortly circulate a resolution to energize the African response. It would not yet authorize a military intervention by an international force, but would instead set a deadline for ECOWAS and the African Union to provide the Security Council with details of the operation.
ECOWAS has intervened militarily in past African conflicts, including the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)