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.

 

US says Assad may be preparing another chemical attack

Over 8,000 migrants rescued in Med in 48 hours

Yemen cholera outbreak shows signs of slowing

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

Eid revives Tunisian tradition of pastry making

Hamas says travel documents for sick Gazans being refused

Former Syrian defence minister Mustafa Tlass dies in Paris

Iran says US reinstating travel ban 'regrettable'

GCC construction outlook to improve with oil prices recovery and implementation of reforms

57 dead in US-led strikes on IS Syria prison

Kremlin denounces US ‘threats’ against Assad

Mattis says US wants to steer clear of war in Syria

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar