UNITED NATIONS - UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told a closed Security Council meeting on Thursday that Mali urgently needed international help to reclaim the north of the country from Islamist militants and that "time is not on our side," UN envoys said.

Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country.

West Africa's regional body, ECOWAS, has mapped out a three- phase operation to help Malian troops recapture the north, and Mali's interim leader, Dioncounda Traore, asked the 15-member UN Security Council earlier this month to authorize the force.

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