Bamako - Mali's interim president said on Monday his administration could not wait several months before launching an offensive to wrest the north of the country back from Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
The United Nations in December approved a plan by regional bloc Ecowas to help Bamako oust the extremists, who have occupied the north for nine months, but officials have warned any intervention was unlikely before September.
"The legitimate, legal, quick and clean war we want to wage with the international community's support... needs more time for all technical, strategic and legal aspects to be fine-tuned," Dioncounda Traore said in a New Year address.
"However I can tell you one thing: Mali will not wait months, as some seem to advocate. We will not wait for the cancer to spread. The war against the terrorists will happen sooner than expected and the Malian army will be at the forefront."
The UN Security Council approved the deployment of a 3 300-strong African force but no timetable was agreed and the world body insisted mediation efforts led by Burkina Faso should be supported even as military preparations progressed.