The UN Security Council has urged Mali's military to refrain from "any interference" in politics during the transition to civilian rule.

Friday's statement called on the military junta to "cease their continuous interference in the political process" and urged the armed forces to "return to their barracks and to refrain from any interference in political affairs and in the work of the transitional authorities."

Security Council members "reiterated their grave concern about the insecurity and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Mali and in the Sahel region," the statement said.

"They reaffirmed their preoccupation with the increased terrorist threat and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in the north of Mali."

Peacekeeping mission

The 15-member body also said it was awaiting clarification on a possible peacekeeping operation by the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], to help Bamako wrest the north back from Islamist rebels.

West African leaders have pressed Mali to form a unity government and regain control in the north following a military coup on March 22 that plunged the country into chaos and the establishment of a weak interim government in April.

The Security Council encouraged ECOWAS to continue preparations for a potential peacekeeping force to help Bamako recover the north but did not grant it an explicit mandate.

ECOWAS has said it is prepared to send 3,300 troops to help Mali defeat the rebels but that it expects a UN mandate and external logistical support, as well as a formal request from Bamako.

The Security Council "took note" of a planning conference scheduled over the weekend in Bamako with ECOWAS, UN, EU and African Union representatives to discuss a possible intervention.

Source: Agencies