By John Irish and David Lewis
PARIS/DAKAR | Thu Jul 12, 2012 11:57am EDT
(Reuters) - Foreign powers will probably intervene militarily in Mali after al-Qaeda-linked militants took control of territory in the north of the West African country, France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday.
Regional and Western governments have compared the situation in Mali to Afghanistan, as a mix of local and foreign Islamists have hijacked a rebellion initially launched in January by secular Tuareg separatist rebels.
"In the north, at one moment or another there will probably be the use of force," Fabius said, noting that intervention would be African-led but supported by international forces.
After chasing the secular MNLA rebels from their positions, Islamist fighters have consolidated their grip now controlling two-thirds of Mali's desert north, which includes the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They have carried out a wave of attacks on ancient Sufi shrines, some of which were classified world heritage sites by UNESCO.