Paris - African Union chief Thomas Boni Yayi called on Wednesday for the creation of a UN-backed force to intervene in Mali, where Islamist militants and Tuareg rebels have declared independence in the north.
"We are proposing that the AU strengthen its position so that its Peace and Security Council can refer the matter to the UN Security Council," the Benin president said in Paris, calling for a UN-backed African force.
"We can take the example of Somalia, where an African force is operating with the support of the United Nations. We can move in this direction," said Boni Yayi, who on Tuesday met with French President Francois Hollande.
"This [military] solution must come after dialogue, but this dialogue must not last too long," he said. "We do not want a west African Afghanistan. The question of stability is non-negotiable for us."
Tuareg rebels - many of whom were mercenaries for Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and returned heavily armed to their homeland - rekindled their decades-old struggle for autonomy with a massive offensive in mid-January.
A coup by a group of low-ranking officers ousted the government in Bamako on 22 March, accusing it of incompetence in handling the Tuareg rebellion.
However the coup only opened the way for the Tuareg, Islamist group Ansar Dine - believed to have ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - and criminal groups to occupy Mali's vast north, an area larger than France.
The main Tuareg rebel group, the National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA), and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) jointly declared the independent Islamic state of Azawad in northern Mali on Saturday - but a rift over Islamic law emerged within 48 hours and the two groups remained deadlocked.
The short-lived accord was hammered out after weeks of discussions between two groups that have long held separate objectives and ideologies.
Mali's embattled transitional government swiftly rejected the embryonic rebel alliance's declaration.
The West African bloc Ecowas on Monday also rejected the rebel declaration of independence and repeated an earlier threat to take "all necessary measures" to keep Mali's territorial integrity intact.
Mali's transitional leaders have stressed their wish to restore the country's territorial integrity but seem unable to guarantee their own safety, let alone mount a credible challenge against the north's new masters.