News Column

Hollande to Visit Troops in Mali

Feb. 1, 2013

French President Francois Hollande is set to visit troops in Mali Saturday, three weeks into a Franco-Malian offensive to oust Islamist rebels from the north of the country.

He is expected to meet Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore in Bamako, and will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French presidency said.

During his visit, Hollande will reportedly travel to the historic city of Timbuktu, which was liberated by French troops over the weekend

France launched airstrikes against the strongholds of jihadist armed groups on January 11, answering the call of Mali's interim government as the insurgents were advancing on the capital Bamako.

Tuareg rebels seized the north in early 2012 from the government after a coup in Bamako in March but were swept aside by radical Islamists who imposed sharia law.

On Thursday, Malian forces joined the French in Kidal, the last bastion of the al-Quaeda linked rebels, after the joint forces liberated Gao and Timbuktu over the weekend.

Europe should play a key role in stabilizing Mali after the initial French-led military operation, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Friday.

"Military intervention only marks the beginning of a long process towards long-term conflict resolution."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International warned Friday that civilians in Mali's north have suffered extrajudicial killings and other acts of violence both by the Malian army and by armed Islamist rebels since the military operation started in early January.

At least 13 suspected Islamist supporters were executed by Malian government forces and five others disappeared in Sevare and Konna in January, according to Human Rights Watch.

The group added that jihadists in Konna also executed at least seven Malian soldiers and used children as soldiers.

Soldiers at a bus station in Sevare, about 620 kilometres north of the capital Bamako, detained bus passengers suspected of association with Islamist rebel groups, and summarily executed them, witnesses told the group.

Amnesty said that more than two dozen Malians had been killed by Mali's army, mainly in Sevare, on the eve of the French intervention in the West African country on January 11.

The army seemed to target people suspected of supporting Islamist rebels, largely judged by their appearance, the report said.

"I noticed that all the people who had been killed were wearing clothes similar to those worn by Islamists," a witness in a Sevare neighbourhood said, adding that he counted 12 bodies that were then thrown into a well by soldiers.

Witnesses also spoke to Amnesty of the use of child soldiers by the insurgents.

"These children were carrying rifles. One of them was so small that his rifle was sometimes dragging on the ground," a witness said referring to children, aged between 10 and 17 years, he had seen in Diabaly.

Amnesty International says that at least five civilians, including a mother and her three young children, were killed in an airstrike on Konna on January 11, the first day of the intervention.

While French officials told Amnesty that they did not carry out attacks at that time in Konna, a Mali government official confirmed the attack to the group.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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