First Published: 2013-01-15

 

UN backs French military intervention in Mali

 

France reinforces its ground forces with armoured column after driving Islamists from their northern strongholds.

 

Middle East Online

By Serge Daniel - BAMAKO

650 French troops are in Mali to halt the Islamist advance

France secured fresh UN backing for its military action in Mali and reinforced its ground forces with an armoured column after driving Islamists from their northern bases with air strikes.

A meeting of the 15-nation UN Security Council on Mali expressed unanimous "understanding and support" for the military intervention, France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters late Monday.

The United Nations also said more than 30,000 people had fled the fighting and accused the Islamists of stopping thousands of them from travelling south into government-held zones.

French President Francois Hollande meanwhile arrived in the United Arab Emirates early Tuesday on a long-planned trade mission, but his aides have insisted he will be kept fully informed of developments in Mali.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, originally scheduled to be part of the high-powered delegation, stayed in Paris.

French jets on Monday hit Douentza, 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Bamako, which the Islamists have held since September. But residents said the fighters had left before the warplanes arrived.

The jihadists have imposed a brutal version of Islamic law in the north for nearly 10 months.

In Timbuktu, where residents have been executed or had limbs cut off in some of the worst abuses, they said the Islamists had fled in anticipation of an attack.

In Gao, another northern city formerly held by the Islamists, they were nowhere to be seen after bombing by Rafale warplanes on Sunday, residents there reported.

Having been driven from their northern strongholds Monday, the Islamists struck back in western Mali, capturing the small town of Diabaly from the country's weakened army. Diabaly lies some 400 kilometres north of Bamako.

A spokesman for the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) group, Senda Ould Boumama, said their withdrawal was a "tactical retreat" to reduce civilian casualties, in comments published on Mauritanian news website Alakhbar.

A leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) vowed revenge. "France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France," Abou Dardar of the Al-Qaeda-linked group said Monday.

Meanwhile French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault acknowledged the plight of the eight French hostages being held in Africa and the risks that the Mali operation might pose for them.

However, he said: "To do nothing and let Mali become a haven for terrorist groups would not have contributed to the freeing of our hostages."

On top of the use of Rafale fighters and helicopter attacks, about 650 French troops are in Mali to halt the Islamist advance, according to the French defence ministry.

Around 30 French armoured tanks and troop transport vehicles crossed from Ivory Coast into Mali on Monday, escorted by a helicopter, witnesses said. France has a 450-strong force based in Ivory Coast supporting a UN peacekeeping mission there.

France and other UN Security Council countries want to speed up the deployment of a UN-mandated 3,300-strong west African intervention force in Mali.

Nigeria, which will lead the force, plans to have 600 troops on the ground "before next week," President Goodluck Jonathan said. Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged troops.

Britain and Canada have offered troop transporters to the French military and the United States says it will share intelligence and provide logistical support.

Algeria said it had closed its 2,000-kilometre desert border with northern Mali to stop Islamists crossing into the country. To the west, Mauritania said it had sent soldiers to close its border with Mali.

The Islamists seized upon the chaos of a military coup in Bamako last March to seize northern Mali, sparking widespread international fears that they could set up a terrorist safe haven.

When the UN Security Council approved an African-led intervention force, UN officials said it could not be launched until September.

But the Islamist offensive and France's military intervention led diplomats to predict a review of those plans.

 

Syrian rebels agree to leave new area outside Damascus

Family accuses Israel of killing Palestinian in Malaysia

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Cinema makes return to Saudi Arabia

UN Security Council meets over Syria in Sweden

Turkish government rejects criticism of election campaign

Condemnation after Gaza teenager killed by Israeli soldiers

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen