France, Africa seeks support for regional Mali force

Sat Jan 19, 2013 4:07pm EST
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By Joe Bavier and Bate Felix

ABIDJAN/NIONO, Mali (Reuters) - France and West African leaders called on Saturday on other world powers to commit money and logistical support for African armies readying their troops to join French soldiers already battling al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali.

The appeal came as African leaders met in Ivory Coast to hammer out details of a regional mission that is due to take over from French forces but is dispatching soldiers while still short of financing, planning and even ammunition.

France has deployed ground troops and its war planes have bombed rebel columns and bases, halting an Islamist advance. The intervention aims to stop militants from tightening their grip on Mali's northern desert zone and using it as a springboard for attacks in Africa and on the West.

"Today you have both France and some elements of the Malian army. They are doing the job, because if they had not done the job, there would no longer be a free country called Mali," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at the summit.

"Terrorism would be there," he added.

Fabius said French troops were not intended to replace the African operation and he called on donors to make commitments to the mission at a January 29 conference in Ethiopia.

The French intervention halted a lightening rebel push last week. But Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that the group had subsequently received reports of serious abuses, including killings, being committed by Malian security forces against civilians around the central town of Niono, near the frontline.

The stakes rose dramatically this week when Islamist gunmen cited the French intervention as a pretext to attack a desert gas plant in neighboring Algeria and seize hostages. Algeria's army carried out a "final assault" on Saturday to end a siege in which it said 23 hostages - many of them believed to be foreigners - and 32 militants were killed.   Continued...

A French soldier drinks water following a visit by Mali's Prime Minster Django Cissoko at the Mali air force base near Bamako January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard