Hollande praises Mali intervention, France admits killing child 'lookout'
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President François Hollande lauded the success of the French military intervention in Mali at the opening of the France-Africa summit in Bamako on Saturday. But revelations that French forces have killed a child they believed to be an insurgents' lookout have sullied their record in the troubled west African country.
France will be "at Mali's side until the peace process has succeeded", Hollande said in Bamako on Saturday.
The speech was timed to mark the fourth anniversary of the launching of the Serval operation to fight an alliance of armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists who had taken control of the north of the country.
Hollande contrasted his government's intervention with that of the rest of Europe which "did not always appreciate what was at stake" while "the Malian people trembled".
Now "the terrorists don't control any territory, democracy has returned, elections have taken place ... the economy is reviving and reconciliation is under way with the Algiers agreement [between the government and some Tuareg rebel groups]," he said.
Mali has provided a lesson for the "international community" and "martyred peoples" in Syria, Iraq and Libya, he added.
After what is almost certainly Hollande's last speech in Africa as French president, his audience about 30 African heads of state gave him a standing ovation.
Child killed in north Mali
But revelations that French troops killed a 10-year-old boy in the north of the country showed another side of the conflict.
The French Defence Ministry on Friday confirmed a report in Jeune Afrique magazine that a helicopter patrol killed a "lookout who turned out to be a minor" near Tigabatene, 60km from Tessalit, on 30 November and buried his body shortly after his death.
The patrol was summoned after the army spotted a group that was passing information on a convoy approaching the area to a rebel group to "allow planters of improvised explosive devices to kill French soldiers", the ministry said.
An IED had killed Adjutant Fabien Jacq and wounded four other soldiers on 4 November, it pointed out.
The victim was 10-year-old Issouf Ag Mohamed, who had been sent by his parents to take their donkeys to water, Jeune Afrique says.
According to minutes seen by the magazine, a French officer admitted the army's responsibility to UN representatives at a meeting of the Barkhane intervention force.
The speedy burial of the child's body by another helicopter patrol was carried out according to usual procedure, he reportedly said, leading Jeune Afrique to conclude that "this practise is common".
An inquiry was ordered immediately and is still under way, the ministry said on Friday.