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.

 

Syria army agrees to respect truce in Syria’s Aleppo

Davutoglu to step down after failing to escape Erdogan's shadow

Israel strikes Hamas sites in Gaza

UN urged to take action over rebel fire on besieged Yemen city

Will London elect its first Muslim mayor?

Yemen foes discuss key issues in Kuwait talks

Egypt's Sisi touts economic accomplishments

US aid ship docks with food for Sudan war zones

Israel court recommends returning Palestinian attackers' corpses

Saudi allows Binladin Group tenders after mass layoffs

Long Erdogan-Davutoglu honeymoon coming to an end

Tunisia confident border trade with Libya will resume 'very soon'

Malta likely to become first EU member to open Libya mission

Qaeda threatens to target homes of Yemen security forces

Anti-ISIS coalition pledges additional military commitment

UN warns Eastern Aleppo may soon become besieged

London set to elect its first Muslim Mayor

Fierce fighting rages in Aleppo as diplomacy efforts intensify

Riyadh's $22.5 bn Metro project on track

Egypt court sentences prominent activist to six months in prison

UK to take in more Syria child refugees

France to host Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Turkey FMs for Syria talks

US expects more military resources for anti-ISIS fight

Standoff escalates between Egypt journalists and authorities

Turkey says ready to send ground troops to Syria 'if necessary'

Hamas accuses Fatah of organising military cell in Gaza

Egypt court acquits Mubarak's last PM

Israel to upgrade ties with NATO as Turkey lifts veto

Passengers injured as Etihad flight hits severe turbulence

Israeli tanks fire shots over Gaza border

5th edition of Middle East Homeland Security Summit to be held in Amman in November

Money and revenge push Syrians to jihadist ranks

EU conditionally backs visa-free travel for Turks, overhauls asylum system

Airstrikes resume in Damascus as fighting 'freeze' ends

Relief in Yemen's Mukalla after year of al-Qaeda rule

Saudi oil minister visits Sudan to cement improving ties

Warnings for Assad as Syria talks shift to Berlin

Is Erdogan-Davutoglu tandem coming to an end?

US troops facing growing risks in Iraq, Syria

Fierce clashes rage in Syria’s Aleppo

Yemen warring parties back to peace talks table

OPCW warns ISIS may be making chemical weapons

French court says 'Carlos the Jackal' must face trial for 1974 attack

UN demands protection of hospitals in armed conflicts

Jewish settler who led burning alive of Palestinian teen receives life sentence