First Published: 2013-01-24

 

African forces join French-led push against Mali Islamists

 

First troops from UN-mandated African force aimed at replacing French mission start to move towards central towns in Mali.

 

Middle East Online

By Serge Daniel - BAMAKO

Moves to aid French-led operation accelerate

African forces were moving towards Mali's centre Thursday, as pressure grew on Malian troops over summary killings and rights abuses in a French-led assault on Al Qaeda-linked groups.

The first troops from a UN-mandated African force aimed at replacing the French mission have "already started to move towards central towns," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris Wednesday, adding that the force had deployed "far quicker than envisaged".

He said 1,000 troops from West African countries and Chad had already arrived in Mali, which has been split in two since April.

"The African force is deploying much faster than expected," Fabius said. "Obviously that poses a number of logistical difficulties but I have to say that I have seen a very big effort by our African friends."

A Malian defence official said that 160 soldiers from Burkina Faso had arrived in Markala, 270 kilometres (170 miles) north of the capital Bamako, to "take up the baton from the French" guarding a strategic bridge on the Niger river.

"They are already in place and could then go on to Niono and Diabaly," two towns farther north, the source said, adding: "After the French, it will be the Africans who are on the ground".

The UN has authorised the deployment of a 3,300-strong force under the auspices of 15-nation West African bloc ECOWAS. But the involvement of Chad, which has committed up to 2,000 troops, means the force could now be much bigger.

Nearly two weeks after France swept to Mali's aid to stop an Islamist advance towards Bamako, reports emerged of atrocities committed by Malian soldiers and growing fears of attacks among light-skinned ethnic communities.

The majority of the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels being hunted by the armies are either Tuaregs or Arabs.

The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues said that in the central town of Sevare at least 11 people were executed in a military camp near the bus station and the town's hospital, citing evidence gathered by local researchers.

Credible reports also pointed to around 20 other people having been executed in the same area and the bodies having been dumped in wells or otherwise disposed of, the organisation said.

At Niono, also in the centre of the country, two Malian Tuaregs were executed by Malian soldiers, according to the FIDH.

The organisation called for an immediate independent inquiry to "determine the scale of the abuses and to punish the perpetrators".

The rights group Human Rights Watch said its investigators had spoken to witnesses who saw the executions of two Tuareg men in the village of Siribala, near Niono.

The group also said witnesses had reported "credible information" of soldiers sexually abusing women in a village near Sevare, and called on the government to urgently investigate these incidents.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged extreme "vigilance" against any abuses, saying the "honour of the (Malian) troops is at stake".

"We cannot accept any rights violations. The international community will face a very serious situation if (the intervention force) is identified with abuses," Fabius added.

Le Drian said France had run up a bill of 30 million euros ($40 million) in 12 days in Mali, but added that it would not make a serious hole in the defence budget, which included about 630 million euros for external operations.

France said it had already deployed 2,300 soldiers in Mali, its former colony, whose poorly trained and equipped force has been overwhelmed by Islamist rebels occupying the vast arid north and seeking to push south.

Malian army chief General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele promised that any soldier involved in abuses would be brought to book.

"One mustn't get confused. Every white skin is not a terrorist or a jihadist and among the enemy which attacked our different position were many black skins. We are among brothers, whether one is black or white."

International moves to aid the French-led operation have accelerated, with the US military airlifting French troops and equipment from France into Mali.

Italy, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates are also providing transport planes or helicopters required to help move the African and French troops around Mali's vast expanses.

Mali's year-old crisis began when Tuaregs returning from fighting for slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi in Libya, battle-hardened and with a massive arsenal, took up a decades-old rebellion for independence of the north, which they call Azawad.

They allied with hardline Islamists and seized the key towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in a matter of days.

The Islamists later broke with their Tuareg allies, and with firm control of the north, implemented an extreme form of Islamic law.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has pledged to send 900 soldiers to Mali, meanwhile said that local extremist group Boko Haram was linking up with Al-Qaeda's North African branch operating in northern Mali and other north African nations.

If not contained, Boko Haram would threaten "not only Nigeria, but West Africa, central Africa and of course north Africa", he told CNN.

 

Britain remembers London bombings under shadow of Tunisia

Iran nuclear talks to continue beyond deadline

Saudi Arabia arrests 3 brothers over Kuwait mosque bombing

‘Islamic State’, between hammer of US and anvil of Syria Kurds

UN struggling to raise funds for war-torn Yemen

Syria parliament approves deal on Iran line credit

Hamas accuses Palestinian Authority of ‘torture, mass arrests’

Posters threatening gays with death appear in Ankara

Turkey detains 800 crossing from Syria illegally

French Special Forces kill senior Qaeda terrorist in Mali

HRW: Tunisia must respect freedoms in state of emergency

Deadly suicide attack targets Syria army base in Aleppo

Iran nuclear talks: World powers get back to work on new deadline day

Turkish Airlines flight makes emergency landing over bomb threat

Over 150,000 South Sudanese taking shelter in UN bases

Unrecognised government in Libya announces army reforms

Spain arrests suspected female IS group recruiter

Shebab militants target northern Kenya in deadly gun attack

Scores of lawyers willing to defend Morocco women tried over ‘provocative’ dresses

US 'intensifying' campaign against IS base in Syria

Iran nuclear talks set to miss yet another deadline

Carrot and stick as ‘Islamic State’ seeks to win over Sunni tribes

In Saudi Arabia, number of security prisoners climbs again

'Islamic State' targets Iraq town in wave of bomb attacks

A year after Gaza war, Shijaiyah still trying to recover

Egypt arrests Brotherhood members over plot to disrupt shipping at Suez Canal

Egypt reveals number of Sinai militants killed in last five days

‘Islamic State’ seizes Syria town of Ain Issa from Kurdish forces

Crunch talks to seal Iran nuclear deal begin in Vienna

Warplanes target headquarters of Saleh party in Yemen capital

7 Iraqis killed in accidental warplane bomb

Egypt to reconsider parts of anti-terrorism draft law

Morocco journalist on hunger strike in Geneva told to return home

Iran-backed bomb attack foiled in Jordan

Iran nuclear talks enter in final straight

Near Gaza Strip, Israelis live in fear behind concrete walls

Tunisia declares state of emergency after beach massacre

After Tunisia beach massacre, tourists switch to other destinations

Deadly US raids target ISIS stronghold in Syria

Concern and grief as Britain remembers 2005 terror bombings

Iran nuclear talks: Will Ministers score diplomatic success?

Erdogan moots possibility of snap election

Coalitions of Syria rebels battle regime forces in Aleppo

Lawlessness in Libya poses real danger for Tunisia

Hezbollah backs Syria army in major assault on border city