The UN Security Council on Wednesday ordered sanctions against an Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group in a new sign of the tougher line being taken with militants who have taken over much of the Mali.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) was added to the UN's list of Al-Qaeda groups and individuals hit with a global assets freeze and travel ban.
The move comes as the UN Security Council debates authorizing an international military operation in Mali against the Islamists.
The MUJAO, a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has battled with Tuareg rebels for control of northern Mali and, with AQIM, is holding at least 13 foreigners hostage. AQIM has been listed for sanctions since 2001.
The MUJAO first appeared after the kidnapping of three humanitarian workers at a Western Sahara refugee camp in October 2011. It is also known to operate in Mauritania and other Sahel countries and in Algeria.
"It grew considerably in its first 12 months of operation," said a Security Council statement setting out the reasons for the listing.
"MUJAO's leaders are known to be drug traffickers, involved in the drug trade in the Sahel," the statement added.
The group has said it is holding seven Algerian diplomats taken from the northern Mali town of Gao and has attacked police stations in Algeria this year.
The UN statement said the group had seized heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, explosives and other military equipment from Mali military arsenals since moving into the country.
Mali on Wednesday appealed to the Security Council to urgently approve an international force against the Islamist militants.
France hopes that a Security Council resolution authorizing international military action will be passed this month.
"My delegation wants to stress the urgency of deploying this international force," Traore Rokiatou Guikine, Mali's minister for African integration, told a Security Council meeting on the crisis.
"The daily suffering of the occupied Malian people is well known: there are floggings, amputation of limbs, summary executions, children forced to become soldiers, rapes, stoning, looting and the destruction of cultural and historic sites," she said.
If the force is approved, UN officials say an operation to reclaim northern Mali could be launched next September.