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AP Interview: UN chief says France, Senegal, Nigeria offer help to Mali to defeat militants

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says France, Senegal and Nigeria have responded to an appeal from Mali's president for help to counter an offensive by al-Qaida-linked militants who control the northern half of the country and are heading south.

The U.N. chief said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that assisting Malian forces to push back against the Islamist armed groups is "very important."

France launched a military operation Friday to help the government of Mali defeat the militants. Ban didn't elaborate on what kind of help Senegal and Nigeria are providing.

The secretary-general said he hopes the French government's decision "will be consistent with the spirit" of a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December. It authorized an African-led force to support Malian troops in recovering the north.