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.

 

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

How to overcome Qatar heat? FIFA boss prefers winter World Cup in 2022

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria

Western powers threaten sanctions against hostile actors in Libya

New deadly terrorist attack targets Egypt army in Sinai

‘Islamic State’ suffers heavy losses in Syria battleground of Kobane

After full formation of Iraq government, time comes to visit Iran

UN appeals for four-day truce in Western Libya

Gaza tunnel collapses before demolition: At least 3 Egypt soldiers dead

Erdogan begins one-day visit to Afghanistan

After weeks of delay, Iraq gets new security ministers

Diplomats scold Turkey over ambiguous relation with Islamic State

Lebanon pleads for Iran military aid to fight Islamic State

Kurds repulse new jihadist attempt to cut off Syria town

Huthi rebels meet fierce resistance in Yemen Sunni areas

Former Iraqi pilots train IS to fly Syria fighter jets

Two Millstones Drowning America into Premature Oblivion

Iraqi forces launch anti-IS operation north of Tikrit

Ben Ali cohorts planning comeback in Tunisia polls

Battle for Libya's Benghazi heats up

Kurdish fighters still holding out in Syria's Kobane