French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday that it was not France’s intention to continue to act alone in Mali, as a joint Malian-French military operation to retake the country’s Islamist-controlled north entered its fourth day.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday it was not France’s role or intention to continue to act alone in Mali, as French troops joined Malian forces on the ground to reclaim the country’s Islamist-controlled north for a fourth day.
Speaking to journalists in Paris on Monday, Fabius said France’s intervention in the unstable West African country had received overwhelming international support, as well as the full backing of the United Nations.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says France will not continue to act alone in Mali
“We are not alone in this. The international political support we have is almost unanimous,” Fabius said. “It isn’t France’s role to operate alone in Mali.”
Fabius also announced that EU foreign ministers plan to hold an emergency meeting at the end of the week to evaluate the situation in Mali, as well as how European countries can best aid a planned African-led military intervention in the country.
“By intervening in Mali, France has assumed its international responsibility and fulfilled its international obligations. Key interests were at stake for us, for Africa, for Europe and for the entire international community, so we had to act quickly because of the emergency situation,” Fabius added.
‘We will strike at the heart of France’
France’s decision to intervene in Mali has drawn the ire of al Qaeda-linked rebels, who vowed to retaliate on Monday by launching attacks on French soil.
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"France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France," Abou Dardar, a leader of Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Mali-based groups with ties to al Qaeda, told the AFP news agency.
Asked where attacks would take place, Dardar said: "Everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe."
Mali appealed to France for military assistance last week, before the two countries announced a joint offensive on January 11 to retake the north from Islamist forces. The region – which is largely made up of vast expanses of desert and is roughly the size of France – first fell under the control of Islamist militants allied with Mali’s Tuareg-led separatist movement, the MNLA, in April.
The fall of Diabaly
Malian and French soldiers, backed by heavy French military air support, pushed back rebel fighters from the central town of Konna over the weekend, while a dozen French fighter planes, including four Rafale jets, hit rebel targets in the cities of Goa and Kidal, deeper in the country’s rebel-held north. Residents in Goa said French air raids had struck bases and destroyed weapons depots.
Despite the offensive, Islamists continued to gain ground on Monday after seizing control of the central town of Diabaly, putting them 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the capital Bamako.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the news on Monday on France’s BFM television.
“They took Diabaly… after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army, which was not able to hold them off at that moment,” he said.
Building up before ground campaign
The operation to retake the north has received the official backing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which Mali is a member, and has been promised logistical support from the United States and Britain.
Malian troops on the ground and around 550 French soldiers deployed so far are awaiting the arrival of a 3,300-stong multi-nation African force. French President François Hollande said French involvement would last “as long as is necessary.”
Mali’s separatist Tuareg rebels ‘ready to help’ French forces
Mali’s separatist Tuareg rebel movement, the MNLA, has said it is ready to back a joint French-Malian offensive against Islamist militants in control of the northern half of the country.
"We're ready to help, we are already involved in the fight against terrorism," Moussa Ag Assarid, an MNLA official told news agency AFP by telephone from northern Mali on Monday.
The MNLA, a former ally of Islamist group Ansar Dine, originally helped take over northern Mali in April 2012, before an uneasy power-sharing arrangement between the two groups eventually unraveled.
French army commander Colonel Paul Gèze told Malian television on Sunday that the French military contingency would reach full strength on Monday, but would primarily be deployed around the capital of Bamako to protect the 6,000-strong French expatriate community.
The Malian army was preventing journalists from travelling further north from the town of Sevare on Sunday.
According to FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin, who was in the city of Sevare, residents eagerly awaited the arrival of French troops and supported a ground offensive into rebel-controlled areas. “We have not come across a single Malian who is against France’s intervention,” Mabin said.
“It seems to be that the French intervention has saved Mali,” Alain Mallet, a French national and resident of Sevare told FRANCE 24. “The Islamist groups were a few kilometres from here and everyone knew that the Malian army was completely overwhelmed.”
But Human Rights Watch said ten civilians, including three children, had died as a result of the French bombing campaign in Konna. The London-based rights group said the joint Malian-French offensive posed grave risks to the civilian population, and called on Islamists to release child soldiers they had recruited in Mali and Niger in recent months.
Malian army sources have said that dozens of rebels have been killed near the frontline, including Abdel Krim, nicknamed “Kojak”, a key leader of Ansar Dine, another Islamist group now facing French air power.
Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, said that 11 Malian soldiers had died in fighting over the weekend.
Date created : 2013-01-14