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Military intervention in Mali could begin in early 2013, Ivory Coast leader says

Ivory Coast's president says U.N.-mandated African forces could intervene in lawless northern Mali early next year, calling such an operation "urgent" to prevent the area in western Africa from becoming a hotbed of terrorists and drug traffickers.

Alassane Ouattara chairs the West African bloc known as ECOWAS, which has put together a plan for 3,300 African troops to be deployed in the region.

Ouattara urged the U.N. on Wednesday to pass a resolution this month allowing the operation. If that happens, he said on France's Europe-1 radio, the operation could start "in the first quarter" of 2013. "We are in a position to intervene, the troops are training."

Negotiations on a political solution among the Islamist extremists and Tuareg rebels vying for control of northern Mali are also under way.