Africa Must Take Lead in Mali, France Says

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PARIS -- With French officials saying confidently on Saturday that an advance by Islamist militants on Bamako, Mali's capital, had been halted, France's foreign minister told African leaders that "our African friends need to take the lead" in a multilateral military intervention in Mali.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, at a summit meeting to discuss how to accelerate the involvement of West African troops in Mali, although he acknowledged that it could be some weeks before they were there in force.

"Step by step, I think it's a question from what I heard this morning of some days, some weeks," Mr. Fabius said, referring to the time frame when the bulk of troops from the Economic Community of West African States, the regional group known as Ecowas, would arrive.

"We must, as quickly as possible, furnish the logistical and financial means required by the Malian Army and Ecowas," he said.

France intervened militarily last week after the Malian government said it was afraid that Islamist militants could continue their push south and take over Bamako with little opposition from a dispirited army.

But once the situation is more stable, France wants African troops to do most of the work to wrest the north of Mali from the Islamists, as called for under a United Nations Security Council resolution passed in December.

French officials conceded, however, that there were disputes over how African participation would be paid for and about the best way to transport troops to Mali. In Paris, French officials said that the United States, while willing to help ferry African troops, wanted to bill France for the use of transport aircraft, which officials said would not go down well with the French.

But the officials said that France and the United States were sharing intelligence about Mali and the Sahel region garnered from drones and other means, and discussions with Washington continued amicably.

The African troops also need equipment and training, and Mr. Fabius pointed to a donors' summit meeting in Ethiopia scheduled for Jan. 29 as "a key moment." He called on "all partners of African development" to "make generous contributions to this work of solidarity, peace and security."

The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Saturday that France now had 2,000 troops in Mali, with more in the region, and that France was likely to add to its forces there. He said the Mali operation could involve at least 4,000 soldiers in the region, and French officials said that they would put no fixed limit on the number of troops that might be required to restore the territorial integrity of Mali and drive back the Islamist fighters, who have ties to Al Qaeda.

The French officials emphasized that the targets of the mission were the Islamists, not the Tuaregs or other Malians fighting for more autonomy or independence in the north. They also said that Islamist terrorists in Mali had made four or five efforts to carry out operations in France in the last few years.

Despite reports of French forces fighting on the ground in and around the village of Diabaly, Mr. Le Drian said that "there has been no ground combat" there, only airstrikes. He dismissed reports from Malian Army sources that French troops were fighting or even in the town. "I think someone is hallucinating," he said. "There has been no fighting on the ground in Diabaly."

Residents have told local news agencies that the Islamists have left Diabaly, which they seized as an important way station on the road to the administrative capital, Ségou, north of Bamako.

French airstrikes have halted the Islamist advance toward Mopti and nearby Sévaré, French officials said, while they confirmed that the village of Konna, north of Mopti, was now back in the hands of Mali's government. The French have also sent troops along with Malian forces to secure a bridge over the Niger River at Markala, north of Ségou.

Also on Saturday, Human Rights Watch said it had received what it called credible reports of abuses, including killings, being committed by Malian security forces around Niono against Tuareg and Arab civilians, who are associated with the rebellion in the north. The Islamists have also been condemned for abuses, including stoning of women.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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