UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council on Thursday passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Mali blamed for the desecration of the tombs of Muslim saints.
But the council held back from giving a UN mandate to a proposed West African force to help the interim government to take back territory from Islamist rebels in the north of the country.
The 15-nation council unanimously passed Resolution 2056 which called on UN states to submit names of individuals and groups linked to Al-Qaeda "notably in the north of Mali" for sanctions.
The UN has an Al-Qaeda sanctions committee that imposes an assets freeze and travel ban on targets. Most of the names on the list now are linked to the Afghanistan war.
Islamist fighters, linked to Al-Qaeda, have destroyed the tombs of several Muslim saints in the northern city of Timbuktu. The resolution warned that the desecration could lead to International Criminal Court charges.
The council expressed "deep concern" at the increased terrorist threat in northern Mali due to the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters. The group has been blamed for kidnappings and attacks in several west and North African countries.
West African nations have been pressing for UN backing for a proposed intervention force they want to send to Mali, where a military coup on March 22 was followed by the rebel breakthrough in the north of the country.
The hardline Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), which is allied to AQIM has taken over much of northern Mali and carried out the destruction in Timbuktu.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it has a 3,300-strong force on standby ready to go to Mali to help the interim government and eventually in an operation to retake territory in the north.
ECOWAS and the African Union have asked for an official UN mandate for the force. But the resolution called on West African states to provide more information about the objectives and means of the force before it could act.
The council said it was ready "to further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means and modalities of the envisaged deployment."
The resolution was proposed by France, whose UN ambassador Gerard Araud said it was a "first stage" in showing international support for the West African force.
"We are not going give carte blanche to the ECOWAS. First we have to get the concept of operation" for the intervention force, Araud told reporters.
Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, chairman of the ECOWAS commission, said there is "urgency" to start action in Mali because of the deteriorating security.
He said detailed plans for the military force would be drawn up over the next 10 days and sent to the UN Security Council.
Ouedraogo indicated that ECOWAS would be seeking international financial support for the force.