African leaders want more global involvement in Mali
West African leaders Saturday urged more global involvement and funding as they met to speed up the deployment of regional troops in Mali and boost a French-backed offensive to halt an Islamist onslaught.
- Published: 18/01/2013 at 10:45 PM
- Newspaper section: news
French soldiers of the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment stand with their equipment in front of a PUMA helicopter on January 19, 2013 at the 101st airbase near Bamako. West African leaders Saturday urged more global involvement and funding as they met to speed up the deployment of regional troops in Mali and boost a French-backed offensive to halt an Islamist onslaught.
The emergency summit in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan was also attended by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who clearly said it was time for the Africans to take over and "as soon as possible".
"France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly, otherwise there would have been no more Mali," Fabius said on his arrival in Abidjan. "But it is well understood that it is the Africans that must pick up the baton."
Fabius told the meeting that the French operation's "mission is not to do the job" of the planned African force which is pegged at some 5,800 soldiers, hinting that the French soldiers would leave after that.
Only about 100 African soldiers have so far reached Mali, while France said Saturday 2,000 French soldiers were now on the ground in Mali.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who is also current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, said it was high time other countries did their bit.
"The hour has come for a broader commitment by the major powers and more countries and organisations to the military operations to show greater solidarity with France and Africa," he said.
"We must speed up the re-establishment of Mali's territorial integrity with the logistical support of our partners ... (and) go beyond our current deployment numbers," Ouattara said, calling for international financial support for African nations involved in the Mali effort.
Promising the "inevitable" defeat of the rebels, Ouattara also urged political initiatives including the adoption of a transition roadmap by Malian authorities and national dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.
"No region in the world will ever be safe if the Sahel falls," he said.
Fabius meanwhile said it was "imperative that the civil authorities in Mali take matters into their own hands," addressing interim president Dioncounda Traore, who also attended the summit.
Malian soldiers, backed by French troops and air power, retook the key central town of Konna on Thursday from Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who had swooped down more than a week ago and threatened the capital Bamako.
There were conflicting reports on another town Diabaly, which the Malian army claimed was recaptured but this was effectively denied by the French defence ministry.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hailed the French role and expressed the support of Washington, which has offered to send transport planes and share intelligence.
"We commend France for taking the step to try to block the AQIM and we will try to assist them as do other countries in that effort," he said, referring to the group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The African deployment follows a United Nations resolution. It was originally envisaged that Western powers including France would provide logistical support to an African-led force but it is now clear that French troops will be at the frontline of operations.
The French presence has been a lifesaver for Mali's ill-equipped and demoralised soldiers, struggling to fight an amalgam of Islamist and Tuareg rebel groups.
The Malian army proved no match for Tuareg separatist rebels who took them by surprise when they relaunched a decades-old rebellion in January last year.
As anger rose over their defeats, a group of soldiers overthrew the government in Bamako in a disastrous coup which only made it easier for the Tuareg and their new Islamist allies to seize the vast arid north.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency