France ready to back west African force in Mali
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France is ready to back a west African military intervention in Mali but not to send its own force, Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé said Thursday. Military coup leader Amadou Sanogo has called on the west to intervene in the north against Al-Qaeda fighters allied to Tuareg rebels.
France could provide logistical support to a west African force aiming to stop the advance of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) in Mali, Juppé said.
But, he said, there is no military solution to the demands of the Tuareg, who have taken control of the north in alliance with the Islamists in support for their demand for an independent state.
Juppé said that the military government, which seized power on 22 March, should step aside and “either the president of the national assembly, Dioncounda Traoré, or someone else” should take the reins of the country and be helped to fight Aqim.
The Ecowas grouping of west African countries, along with Mali’s neighbours Algeria and Mauritania, should be responsible for bringing about such a “political” solution, Juppé said.
But the idea of French troops being sent to Mali was “surrealist”, according to the foreign minister.
Chiefs of staff from most of Ecowas’s 15 members met Thursday afternoon in Côte d’Ivoire to discuss the possible deployment of a regional force in Mali.
“If the great powers could cross oceans to fight fundamentalist structures in Afghanistan, what’s stopping them coming to our country?” he asked, claiming that the military staged its coup because it had been betrayed and abandoned to face the Tuareg rebellion.
Sanogo refused to draw any distinction between the Tuareg separataists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups.
MNLA spokesperson Mouss ag Altaher told RFI Thursday that the movement has ended military operations and will soon declare an independent state of Azawad.
The MNLA wants to send “positive signals” to the West, he said, and would fight Aqim if the “international community” asked it to do so.
A hardline Islamist group has seized Algeria’s consulate in the northern city of Gao and raised a Salafist flag, residents told reporters by phone Thursday.
The Mujoa group is reported to have split off from Aqim and claims to control the town.
NGOs report looting and rape there and about 90,000 displaced people have flooded into Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal and are now without any assistance, according to Caritas Internationalis.