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United Nations backs Mali intervention as more French troops on the way

Approval at the UN security council is likely to mean further support for France’s intervention in west Africa.

Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande
Image: Jacques Brinon/AP/Press Association Images

FRANCE’S PRESIDENT FRANCOIS Hollande has said today that 750 French troops have joined the Mali offensive and their numbers will be boosted, on a visit to the Gulf overshadowed by the crisis in the African state.

“For now, we have 750 men and the number will increase… so that as soon as possible we can leave the place to the African forces,” said Hollande during a visit to Peace Camp in Abu Dhabi, his country’s only military base in the region.

“France will continue to have ground and air forces,” Hollande said, adding that deployment of African forces in Mali ”will take at least a week.”

“New strikes overnight achieved their goal,” he told reporters while touring the base.

French forces have, since Friday, been supporting an offensive by Malian government troops against Islamist rebels which have controlled the north of the vast country since April 2012.

The military intervention has driven Islamists fighters from their strongholds in the north but the rebels earlier today pushed farther into the government-held south, seizing the town of Diabali, 400 kilometres or 250 miles north of the capital.

A meeting of the 15-nation UN Security Council on Mali expressed unanimous “understanding and support” for the military intervention, France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters late last night.

Seal the border

The United Nations also said more than 30,000 people had fled the fighting and accused the Islamists of stopping thousands of them from travelling south into government-held zones.

Hollande flew early today into the oil-rich United Arab Emirates where soon after his arrival he held talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Abu Dhabi.

Mauritania, Mali’s western neighbour, ordered its troops to seal the border to prevent Islamists fighters from escaping into their territory.

Hollande was later to hold meetings with the rulers and senior officials from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi during his one-day visit.

On the presidential plane, Hollande’s entourage said that some 700 soldiers in the French base in Abu Dhabi along with six Rafale jets stationed there were on standby to participate in the Mali offensive if needed.

“Mali is still not in our field of action for now … (but) if we receive orders, we will implement them,” said an official at the base.

By a quirk of timing, Hollande’s trip to the United Arab Emirates is aimed primarily at selling Rafale fighter jets like those that have been involved in bombing Islamist rebel bases in Mali.

France is keen to make its first foreign sale of the Rafale, which has struggled to find buyers, to support a project that has cost tens of billions of euros.

A diplomatic source said no contract would be signed during Hollande’s visit but the potential sale was being discussed. France is also keen to ensure oil firm Total retains a place in the Gulf state’s largest onshore oil concession.

- AFP, 2013

Mali conflict: Islamists vow to strike ‘at heart’ of France

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