African states made a new demand Friday that the UN Security Council approve a military intervention force in Mali, but again met resistance from international powers.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) says it has a 3,000 man force on standby to enter Mali to help the interim government. It would also try to take back territory in the north of the country taken by Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda allies.
Many western countries have raised fears that the Mali crisis could spread to other countries and that the rebel-held territory could become a new terrorist haven.
But many nations on the 15-nation Security Council have worries about the strength of the force, diplomats said after a closed meeting when the new demand was made.
Ecowas heads of state approved the force after Mali military officers staged a coup in March and the rebels and their Islamist allies then took advantage of the chaos to seize the northern part of the country.
The Security Council has already refused to give open support to the force at its annual meeting this week with the African Union.
"Any use of force is not the first option. The first option is to get a result through negotiations with those who have legitimate claims," Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, president of the Ecowas commission, told reporters at UN headquarters.
"The heads of state were clear if the path of talks fails the use of force is not excluded and that is why they asked the Ecowas commission to get a standby force ready for an intervention in Mali," he added.
Mr Ouedraogo said the 3,000 strong force would need support from other African states and "logistical and material support" from the international community.
Mr Paul Koffi Koffi, Cote d'Ivoire defence minister, acknowledged that UN ambassadors raised questions about the proposed force, including its size and operational capacity, what support the Mali military would give and who would contribute.
"The answers were given," the minister said expressing confidence that the Security Council would quickly pass a resolution backing the West African efforts.
A spokesman for the French UN mission said that "good progress" was made at the UN talks.
Other diplomats said the Security Council had expressed unanimous support for Ecowas efforts to end the crisis, but there were reservations about giving a UN mandate to the African force.
"How can this force going to help the Malians and how will they tackle the rebels -- these are big questions and they have not been fully answered," said one UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Security Council was preparing a statement supporting the West African states and diplomats said there could be a resolution later which gives political support to the West African bloc.