UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- An inclusive national dialogue in Mali should be the first step in resolving a crisis simmering there since early 2012, a top U.N. official said.
Members of the Economic Community of West African States are formulating plans to send a neutral force into Mali. The country was divided when rebels and al-Qaida groups seized control over the north following political upheaval in early 2012.
Northern rebels are suspected of committing human rights crimes, have razed protected heritage sites and were criticized for their strict enforcement of Islamic law.
Jeffrey Feltman, undersecretary-general for political affairs at the United Nations, said after a U.N. Security Council briefing that "a first step" would be ensuring authorities in Mali have an inclusive dialogue with the goal of restoring order and territorial integrity.
"A well-conceived and executed military intervention in the north should be conducted as a last resort in the north to address terrorist and criminal elements and planning should be undertaken for stabilization activities in recovered areas," he said.
Amanda Dory, a U.S. deputy defense secretary for African affairs, testified before Senate leaders on the crisis in Mali. She expressed concern that al-Qaida affiliates in North Africa were using the security vacuum to set up operational basis. Any military effort there, however, must be an African-led process, she said.