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UN holds emergency Mali talks as rebels advance

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Thursday held emergency talks on Mali amid growing international alarm over advances by radical Islamist forces.
The Islamists earlier claimed the central city of Konna and diplomats said they were closing in on another key town on the route to the capital Bamako from their stronghold in the north of the country.
UN under-secretary general Jeffrey Feltman briefed the 15-nation council after permanent member France called the meeting.
The Security Council last month unanimously approved sending an African-led intervention force to help reconquer territory in northern Mali that rebels and the Al-Qaeda linked militants seized in March.
An advance by the Islamists into government-held territory is a new blow to efforts to contain the radical armed groups who western governments fear could set up a terrorist safe haven in Mali.
Political tensions in the capital Bamako, where military officers who staged a coup last March still hold considerable influence, doubts about the 3,300 strong African force and about funding for any military operation have all clouded preparations to take on the Islamists.
UN diplomats said a force of about 1,200 Islamist guerrillas are 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from the town of Mopti in central Mali.
The rebels earlier took Konna in what French UN mission spokesman Brieuc Pont called a “terrorist offensive” in a tweet from inside the Security Council meeting.
Mopti is 460 kilometers (286 miles) northeast of Bamako, but with government forces seemingly powerless against the offensive, diplomats have expressed concern the rebels could just bypass Mopti and head for the capital.