UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday welcomed the French-led military intervention in Mali at the request of the government there and voiced the hope that it would halt an assault launched by Islamist militants.
"The secretary-general welcomes that bilateral partners are responding, at the request and with the consent of the government of Mali, to its call for assistance to counter the troubling push southward by armed and terrorist groups," Ban's press office said in a statement.
"Countries with capabilities to assist Mali are now providing assistance," it said.
Northern Mali fell under Islamist control after a military coup in March in the capital of Bamako triggered a Tuareg-led rebel offensive that seized the north and split the West African nation in two.
France, which has sent hundreds of troops into Bamako in the past few says, launched more air raids on Monday in the vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance grouping al Qaeda's north African wing, AQIM, Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine militant groups.
"The secretary-general hopes these actions will help to arrest the latest offensive while efforts continue to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2085 (2012) aimed at the full restoration of Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity," the U.N. statement said.
France informed the council on Friday that its military operations in support of the Malian army against Islamist rebels would last as long as needed. It also called for an acceleration of the deployment of an African-led force in support of the Malian army, in line with Security Council Resolution 2085.
The original timetable for the U.N.-authorized intervention force of 3,300 West African troops with Western logistical, financial and intelligence backing did not foresee deployment before September, to allow time for full preparation.
Resolution 2085 was approved unanimously in December. Although it authorized military intervention in Mali, it set benchmarks for preparations for the operation. But it also authorized U.N. members to provide "coordinated assistance" to help Mali restore authority over the entire country.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Paris was acting under article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which discusses nations' right to collective and individual self-defense.
Araud said that France now wanted the deployment of the West African troops under resolution 2085 to be accelerated. "We want to do it as quickly as possible," he told reporters.