BAMAKO, Mali, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- International leaders were in Mali Friday to discuss military intervention as al-Qaida-affiliated rebels tightened their hold in the country's northern region.
Officials from the European Union, United Nations and West African states were invited to attend the meeting, CNN said.
Mali has been in a political upheaval since military officers seized power in a coup March 22, deposing the country's longtime president, Amadou Toumani Toure.
"We want Mali to go back to its original democratic, united and developing country status," said Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, African Union chairwoman, who was one of the officials who traveled to Bamako. "The crisis has the potential of spreading beyond the region. So it is a very important issue for the African Union, for the continent and for peace in the world."
Malians on both sides of the military intervention issue have demonstrated in the streets of the capital in recent days.
The U.N. Security Council last week approved a resolution that gives regional leaders 45 days to develop detailed plans for international military intervention. Friday's meeting is a follow-up.
After the overthrow, ethnic Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants took advantage of the unrest to seize the northern part of the country. Soon after, two groups with ties to al-Qaida ousted Tuareg followers and now control two-thirds of northern Mali.
The U.N. refugee agency says at least 450,000 northerners have fled to neighboring countries or to the government-held south so far this year, Voice of America said.
A recent U.N. report said Islamic extremists have committed a myriad of human rights abuses, including amputations, recruitment of child soldiers and "enforced marriages that are a smokescreen for enforced prostitution."