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.

 

Egypt lists Hamas as terrorist organisation

Yemen separatists suspend participation in UN-sponsored talks

Iran shrugs off Netanyahu bid to abort nuclear deal

Jailed Kurdish leader calls on followers to lay down arms

Iraq reopens national museum more than 10 years after looting

Scores dead as car bombs target crowded market in Iraq capital

Dozens dead as Qaeda takes strategic rebel base in Syria

UAE reopens Yemen embassy in Aden

Libya PM threatens new air strikes with Egypt against IS

Qatar takes full ownership of Porta Nuova

Roadmap finally agreed to end brutal Syria conflict

Turkey not placing high priority on fighting IS

IS militants destroy priceless ancient artefacts in Iraq’s Mosul

Aden becomes Yemen de facto ‘political capital’

Qatar emir committed to 'stability' in Egypt despite row

Rouhani adviser blames ‘extremists’ for rights violations

US-led coalition raids IS targets in northeastern Syria

IS executioner identity revealed

3 sentenced to death over Bahrain police killings

Hollande condemns French MPs for meeting Assad

HRW: Kurds preventing return of Arabs to disputed Iraq areas

One dead in series of Cairo bombings

UN Security Council calls for stepping up Yemen talks

Kerry: US, Iran have 'mutual interest' in defeating IS

Australian FM warns women against 'romantic adventure' with IS

Lebanese synagogue gets second life

Netanyahu speech to test resilience of US-Israeli ties

Austria adopts 'Islam of European character'

Tuareg chief issues plea for Mali unity

UN: Saleh amassed between $32-60 billion

Libyan FM warns country could be next Syria

Iran rejects US claims of role in Yemen crisis

French planes on Gulf-based carrier make first strikes

Top US official warns against Netanyahu speech to congress

Four French MPs meet Assad in Syria

FIFA cites 'problems' in worker conditions for Qatar World Cup

Mosque torched near Bethlehem

Egypt TV host faces trial for false bathhouse accusations

Turkey drives hard bargain over crucial missile deal

Obama nominates first US ambassador to Somalia since 1991

Obama praises Qatar as 'strong partner' in fighting IS

Saudi goes hi-tech against IS threat

Sisi grants Egypt authorities sweeping anti-terror powers

Algeria police prevent anti-shale gas protest

Turkey revives Istanbul canal plan