Hollande sends troops into Mali as Islamists destabilise west Africa

Sat, Jan 12, 2013, 00:00

French troops were on the ground in Mali last night after President François Hollande ordered a military intervention to halt an advance by Islamist rebels who have taken control of large swathes of the north African country.

Mr Hollande said he was acting in line with United Nations resolutions by responding to a call for military support from Mali’s interim president.

He did not outline the scale of the French presence, but said the operation against “terrorist elements” would continue “as long as necessary”.

France intervened after Mali appealed for urgent military aid when Islamist fighters encroached further south, seizing the town of Konna on Thursday, bringing them within striking distance of Mopti, home to a military base and airport.

Malis armed forces retook Konna from Islamist rebels with French military support yesterday, a Malian defence ministry official said.

“The Malian army has retaken Konna with the help of our military partners. We are there now,” Lieut Col Diaran Kone told Reuters.

Mali descended into chaos last March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize more than half the country. Islamist militias, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), hijacked the revolt and now control northern Mali – an area eight times larger than Ireland.

Floggings and executions

The militias have imposed Sharia, carrying out floggings and executions, and destroying shrines in the holy city of Timbuktu. They have destabilised west Africa and stirred fears Mali could become a base for terrorists targeting Europe.

“The terrorists should know that France will always be there when the rights of a people, those of Mali, who want to live freely and in a democracy, are at issue,” Mr Hollande said last night. France, the former colonial power, has a large Malian population and French nationals remain hostages of al-Qaeda-linked groups in the region. (Additional reporting – Reuters)