Nigerian ECOMOG artillerymen engage rebels using a battery of four 105mm field howitzers, October 1st 1990
French troops are backing the Malian
army’s counter-offensive against Islamist rebels who control the country’s north, President François Hollande confirmed Friday. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also h. reportedly taking part in the offensive.
The Malian army has launched a counter-
offensive against Islamist rebels in the town of Sevare with French military
backing, Malian military sources said
Friday. “Our offensive has started,” the
official said, on condition of anonymity. “The objective is to retake total control of the [central] town of Konna and to proceed from there,” he said, adding that “military planes from friendly countries” were being used in the attack.
Colonel Abdrahmane Baby, a military adviser to Mali’s Foreign Ministry,
confirmed that French troops were in
the country. Troops from Nigeria and
Senegal were also reportedly taking
part in the offensive.
Earlier in the day, French President François Hollande said that France
would heed Mali’s request for military
assistance to help counter an offensive by Islamist militants,specifying that any help given would be done within the framework of a UN Security Council resolution. “We are faced with a blatant
aggression that is threatening Mali’s
very existence,” Hollande said in a
New Year speech to diplomats and
journalists. “I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African
partners, to the request from the
Malian authorities. We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolution. We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues,” Hollande said.
France has urged its citizens and non-
essential diplomatic staff to leave the
country. The fall of Konna Hollande’s remarks came after Mali, a former French colony, had called on Paris to intervene after Islamists wrested control of the northern town of Konna from the Malian army on Thursday in some of the worst fighting the country has seen since militants took control of the north nine months ago.
The fall of Konna, a strategic point 600 km (375 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, was a major setback for government forces, which said Thursday that they were making headway against the alliance of al Qaeda-linked rebels.
The UN Security Council previously
convened emergency consultations in
New York and agreed on a statement
in which the members “express their
grave concern over the reported
military movements and attacks by terrorist and extremist groups in the
north of Mali, in particular their
capture of the city of Konna.
“This serious deterioration of the
situation threatens even more the
stability and integrity of Mali, and constitutes a direct threat to
international peace and security,” the
council said after the meeting, which
was requested by France.
It also repeated calls for the restoration of democracy in Mali and urged UN members “to provide assistance to the Malian Defence and Security Forces in order to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organisations and associated groups”.
Western and regional governments are keen to dislodge the Islamists from a desert zone of northern Mali larger than France, which they captured in April, amid concerns they may use it as a launch pad to stage attacks. Konna was the last buffer between the rebels and Mopti, about 50 km (30 miles) south, which is the main town in the region and is seen as the gateway to the country’s north.
After hours of gun battles, heavily
armed Islamist fighters paraded in
triumph through Konna’s centre,
saying they would push on to take
Mopti and its neighbouring town of
Sevare, residents said. “We took the barracks and we control
all of the town of Konna,” MUJWA
rebel group spokesman Oumar Ould
Hamaha told Reuters. “The soldiers
fled, abandoning their heavy weapons and armoured vehicles.”
News of the fall of Konna sowed panic in Mopti and Sevare, the latter the site of a large military barracks and airport. The towns lie at the crossroads between Mali’s desert north and the greener, more populous south.“We have received the order to evacuate,” said the local head of a US aid agency. “We have already pulled all our personnel and material out of Mopti.”
Local residents and a Malian soldier
based in Sevare told Reuters that
military aircraft, including two cargo planes and four helicopters carrying Western soldiers and equipment, had landed at Sevare airport on Thursday night. The French Defense Ministry declined
to comment on the reports, and Mali government and military officials were not immediately available to comment.
While a UN-sanctioned intervention by African troops is unlikely before September, due to logistical constraints, world powers could decide to act sooner, a UN diplomat said. “If the offensive continues, I think there will be an emergency decision by the international community,” UN special envoy to the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said during a visit to Bamako on Thursday.
Former colonial power France has
been among the most outspoken
advocates of an African-led military
intervention. Many in Mali’s military
have also been keen to launch a
campaign to reverse their rout by the militants in April. The UN Security Council has approved
in principle the idea of an
international military intervention in the north, though it has urged African nations to step up detailed planning in consultation with the United Nations.
An army official had earlier said that soldiers had retaken Douentza, a town about 120 km east of Konna, which has been in the hands of Islamists since September. But residents and a rebel spokesman said Islamists had held their positions inside Douentza, exchanging fire with
government troops stationed just
The renewed fighting could derail hopes of a breakthrough at peace
talks between the Malian government, the rebels and separatist Tuaregs that were scheduled to start in Burkina Faso on Thursday but which have been
postponed until January 21.
Djibril Bassole, Burkina Faso’s foreign minister and regional mediator in the crisis, on Thursday called on the parties to respect a ceasefire deal agreed on December 4 and said the fighting posed a threat to talks. “The climate of confidence has been greatly degraded, and I am very worried that these talks will not bear fruit,” he told reporters in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
Ansar Dine ends ceasefire Ansar Dine, one of the main rebel factions, last week ended its ceasefire because of the plan for military intervention.
Once an example of democracy and
development in turbulent West Africa,Mali was plunged into crisis by a March 2012 coup that allowed Tuareg rebels to seize the north, demanding an independent homeland. Their rebellion was later hijacked by their Islamist allies.
Bickering among Mali’s political elite over a roadmap to end the post-coup transition is causing paralysis and damaging efforts to unite the country with elections to choose a replacement for a caretaker government.
Thousands of people took to the
streets in Bamako on Wednesday
calling for an end to the political crisis, blocking the city’s two main bridges. The government responded on Thursday by shutting down schools in Bamako and Kati until further notice.