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.

 

Qatar-Turkey relations continue to build upon strong alliance

Turkey, Syria Kurds reach agreement to stop fighting

UN aid going to Assad-linked companies

Italy rescues some 6,500 migrants off Libya

Rising water pollution puts millions of lives at risk

Sweden jails Syrian refugee for setting fire to hostel

Turkey arrests editor from top daily in post-coup crackdown

Qaeda-linked group claims deadly ambush in Western Tunisia

France criticizes Turkey’s intervention in Syria

Turkey risks getting bogged down in Syria's war

Shabaab suicide car bomb targets Somalia hotel

US drone strike kills Qaeda suspect in Yemen

Libya says last chemical weapons stocks shipped out

World Vision calls for transparent trial in 'Hamas aid' case

Iran to cover infertility treatments

Top UN official calls for response to South Sudan refugee crisis

Obama to meet Erdogan on Syria over weekend

Libyan forces corner IS fighters in last Sirte holdouts

Tunisia's new unity government takes office

3 Saudi children killed in Yemen cross-border shelling

18 killed in suicide attack in Iraq oasis town

60 killed in suicide bomb attack on Yemen army camp

Turkey's bombings kill civilians in northern Syria

Iran arrests 'nuclear spy'

Egypt frees renowned rights lawyer, Malek Adly

In Saudi city of Najran, Huthis commit war crimes with indiscriminate rockets

Libya forces launch ‘final battle for Sirte’

Dozens killed as Turkey ramps up unprecedented offensive in Syria

Iraq officially asks Saudi Arabia to change ambassador

Yemen government cautiously welcomes US peace plan

Yemen shelling kills three-year-old boy in Saudi border region

Turkey sends more tanks into Syria to bolster military offensive

Turkey arrests former top diplomats over failed coup

Tunisia swears in new premier after approval from parliament

Israeli troops shoot dead Palestinian in occupied West Bank

11 Turkish police officers killed in Cizre bomb attack claimed by PKK

French court suspends burkini ban

Tears as evacuation starts in Syria's Daraya

Turkey PM denies Syria operation singling out Kurds

Kerry, Lavrov meet for talks on Syria

Tunisia parliament to vote on cabinet proposal

Kuwait arrests govt employee promoting IS online

Turkey shells Kurdish fighters in Syria after warning

Oil prices fall on Saudi doubt on output cut

Jeddah meeting bears no fruit on Yemen conflict