UNITED NATIONS - Northern Mali, plagued by Islamist extremists and gripped by an aid disaster, is "one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world," the United Nations warned on Monday, as the United States and France differed over how to tackle the crisis.

Almost 350,000 Malians have fled their homes, with about 40 percent of those sheltering in neighboring countries, said the United Nations, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in the Sahel - a belt of drought-stricken land spanning nearly a dozen impoverished countries on the southern rim of the Sahara from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

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