Macron in Mali for diplo­matic push on Sa­hel anti-ji­had force

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

BAMAKO, Mali — French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron ar­rived in Mali on Sun­day to boost Western back­ing for a re­gional anti-ji­hadist force, with France urg­ing greater sup­port for the Sa­hel re­gion amid mount­ing in­se­cu­rity.

The so-called “G5 Sa­hel” coun­tries south of the Sa­hara — Burk­ina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Niger — have pledged to fight ji­hadists on their own soil with in­sta­bil­ity and Is­lamist at­tacks on the rise.

Macron is join­ing these na­tions’ heads of state in Bamako for a spe­cial sum­mit where France’s back­ing for the force will be an­nounced, with a likely fo­cus on pro­vid­ing equip­ment.

Based in Se­vare, cen­tral Mali, the 5,000-strong G5 Sa­hel force aims to bol­ster 12,000 UN peace­keep­ers and France’s own 4,000-mem­ber Op­er­a­tion Barkhane, which is de­ployed in the re­gion.

“Ev­ery day we must com­bat ter­ror­ists, thugs, mur­der­ers ... who we must stead­fastly and with de­ter­mi­na­tion erad­i­cate to­gether,” said Macron.

Macron is also look­ing to ex­tra back­ing from Germany, the Nether­lands, Bel­gium and the United States — which al­ready has a drone base in Niger — be­yond a pledge of $57.2 mil­lion made by the Euro­pean Union.

Serge Michailof, a re­searcher at the Paris-based IRIS in­sti­tute, de­scribed the EU con­tri­bu­tion as “a joke” given the EU’s “very deep pock­ets” and the poverty of the Sa­hel coun­tries.

“This force is go­ing to cost $300-400 mil­lion at the very least,” he said.

Cha­dian Pres­i­dent Idriss Deby has said his coun­try can­not af­ford to mo­bi­lize large numbers of troops si­mul­tane- ously for the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion and also in the new force.

Deby and Macron are due to meet on the mar­gins of the Bamako sum­mit to dis­cuss the fi­nan­cial is­sue, ac­cord­ing to the French pres­i­dency. Chad’s mil­i­tary is widely viewed as the strong­est of the Sa­hel na­tions.

The visit comes as al-Qaida’s Mali branch of­fered a re­minder of the ji­hadists’ threat, with the re­lease of a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages.

The clip posted on Satur­day by Nus­rat al-Is­lam wal Mus­limeen, also known as the Group to Sup­port Is­lam and Mus­lims, in­cludes el­derly Aus­tralian sur­geon Arthur Ken­neth El­liott and French­woman Sophie Petronin.

El­liott was ab­ducted in Jan­uary 2015 in Djibo, Burk­ina Faso, where he and his wife had run the district’s sole med­i­cal clinic since 1972. Petronin was ab­ducted in late 2016 in the north­ern Malian town of Gao.

In the video, the hostages are sep­a­rately in­tro­duced by a nar­ra­tor, who says that so far there have been no ne­go­ti­a­tions for their re­lease.

Macron vis­ited Gao in north­ern Mali in May, his first foreign visit as pres­i­dent outside Europe, and promised French troops would re­main “un­til the day there is no more Is­lamic ter­ror­ism in the re­gion”.

France in­ter­vened to chase out ji­hadists linked to al-Qaida who had over­taken key north­ern cities in Mali in 2013.

Ev­ery day we must com­bat ter­ror­ists, thugs, mur­der­ers ... who we must stead­fastly and with de­ter­mi­na­tion erad­i­cate to­gether.” Em­manuel Macron, French Pres­i­dent

LUC GNAGO / REUTERS

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron talks with Malian Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as he ar­rives in Bamako, Mali, on Sun­day.

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