France continues raids on Mali Islamists

France is continuing a military operation against Islamist forces in Mali, in west Africa.


The operation is aimed at preventing groups linked to al-Qaeda expanding their power base.

Santilla Chingaipe has the details.

Islamists seized northern Mali in the wake of a coup in March last year which ousted the democratically-elected President Amadou Toumani Toure.

In recent weeks, the Islamists have been winning battles against Mali government forces as they progressed south towards the capital, Bamako.

The United Nations Security Council last month approved sending about 3,000 troops from Mali’s neighbours to try to recapture territory held by the militants.

However, that deployment has so far failed to take place.

French President Francois Hollande says a surge by the rebels into new territory last week had heightened the security situation and prompted France to respond to a plea for help from its former colony.

Mr Hollande says UN Security Council resolutions meant France was acting in accordance with international laws.

“Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, a severe blow was dealt and heavy losses were dealt to our enemies, but our mission has not finished yet. I would like to remind you that it’s made for preparing an African intervention force to allow Mali to recover its territorial integrity in accordance with Security Council resolutions. I have given all instructions and directives so that all the means used by France should be strictly limited within the context of this objective.”

France has been attacking rebel positions from the air, and has landed some 500 troops in Mali.

Mr Hollande says they will be supporting the West African force, once it is deployed.

A spokesman for al-Qaeda’s north African arm Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for the Sahara region has urged France to reconsider its intervention.

“We denounce France’s clear and unequivocal intervention in Mali’s internal affairs. We can’t be clearer than this: this is an operation by the Crusaders in order to destroy the Islamic projects in Mali”.

The group has called on support from Mali’s Islamic neighbours to fight against the French.

It has also warned that France’s military intervention puts French hostages and other French citizens at risk.

The French Foreign Ministry has advised the 6,000 French citizens living in Mali to leave the country.

President Hollande has also ordered tighter security at home in case of reprisal attacks from Islamic extremists.

Support for the French action from other countries is so far very limited.

Britain has offered two military transport planes to carry the West African troops being sent to Mali.

But Britain says it will not be sending any troops of its own.

United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says it is consulting with France.

“Well, obviously we remain deeply concerned about the recent events in Mali. We echo the international community’s condemnation of these recent aggressive acts. As you know, we joined in a very strong security council statement on this. We do understand that France has offered some immediate military support to the Malian armed forces at the request of the Malian government. We are obviously consulting very closely with the government of France going forward.”

Meanwhile, France has also intervened in Somalia in a failed raid to rescue a French intelligence officer being held hostage by the Islamist group, Al-Shabaab.

President Hollande says the operation resulted in the deaths of the hostage, Denis Allex, and two French soldiers.

“I took the decision a few days ago to undertake an action to deliberate of our agents who have been detained for the past three years in atrocious conditions. The operation did not succeed despite the sacrifice of our soldiers and also the assasination of our hostage.”

The Defence Ministry says it believes the Mr Allex had been killed by his captors.

But the al-Qaeda linked group has denied Mr Allex is dead and says it is still holding him.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says French troops underestimated the Islamist rebels’ strength when they launched the operation.

He says it involved some 50 troops and at least five helicopters.

Mr Le Drian says the raid took place on Friday; the same day French troops launched air strikes in Mali.

But he says the operations are not connected.

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