SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – France’s defense minister has reaffirmed that the country will keep 1,000 troops in Mali to fight armed groups even after the arrival of more than 12,000 UN peacekeepers later this year.
A day after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the peacekeeping force, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the city of Gao in northeastern Mali.
“From now on we are in the post-war phase. The UN resolution adopted yesterday will allow for the arrival of a force to stabilize the country,” Le Drian told reporters on Friday. “But France will keep about 1,000 soldiers to carry on with military operations.”
During his visit to Mali, Le Drian met Acting President Dioncounda Traoré and General Ibrahim Dahrou Dembele to discuss efforts underway to train the Malian military.
The new UN force will also incorporate 6,000 African Union troops already deployed in Mali -- a force recently called "completely incapable" by a US Defense Department official.
The UN force is tasked with helping to restore peace in the aftermath of a French-led military operation launched in January to dislodge local fighters who had seized control of the country’s vast north.
However, the UN peacekeepers will not be authorized to launch offensive military operations or chase fighters in the desert. Therefore, the French forces will continue to do that job, although France is planning to downscale its presence in its former colony by the end of the year.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A high-ranking Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official has linked the deadly Boston attacks to the U.S.-backed French war in Mali.
Essam Elerian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), wrote in a statement posted in Arabic on his Facebook account that the “events began with the sending of French battalions to Mali in a war against organizations that are said to be part of al Qaeda.”
Elerian expressed sympathy with the families of the victims, but said the attacks “do not stop us from reading into the grave incident.”
“Who interfered in democratic transformations, despite the difficult transition from despotism, corruption, poverty, hatred and intolerance to freedom, justice, tolerance, development, human dignity and social justice?” he asked. “Who created Islamophobia through research and media? Who funded this violence?”
Earlier, Elerian’s FJP party published a statement in English condemning the “heinous attacks in Boston,” which killed three people and wounded more than 170 others.
The party said it “offers heartfelt sympathies and solemn condolences to the American people and the families of the victims.”
“Islamic Sharia [law] strongly condemns the attacks on civilians and the terrorizing of innocent people.”-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Arabiya
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution to approve the creation of a 12,600-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali starting on July 1, which would be able to request the support of French troops if needed to combat rebel threats.
Experts from the 15 Security Council members are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the resolution, drafted by France and obtained by Reuters news agency, which would authorise peacekeepers and French troops to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians and stabilise key cities, especially in Mali's desert north.
The Security Council hopes to adopt the resolution, which may be revised during negotiations, by the end of April.
A senior UN official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the operation would be the fourth largest UN peacekeeping force and cost up to $800m annually.
France, aided by some 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offencive in January to drive out fighters, who had hijacked a revolt by Mali's Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of the West African country.
France has started withdrawing its 4,000-strong force and plans to have just 1,000 by the end of the year. Chad said on Sunday it would also withdraw from Mali after helping the French drive rebels from northern towns, mountains and deserts.
Syria had said Mali's north was in danger of becoming a springboard for extremist attacks on the region and the West.
"French forces will be ready to provide support [to the peacekeepers]," said a senior Security Council diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"You can't ask the blue helmets [peacekeepers] to engage in counterterrorism."
The draft Security Council resolution proposes that a UN peacekeeping force - to be known as MINUSMA - take over authority on July 1 from a UN-backed African force in Mali that has been deployed there to take over from the French forces.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) France has begun to withdraw troops from Mali where they have battling Islamist militants, the French defence ministry has said.
Around 100 of the 4,000 sent to the West African nation in January have been withdrawn to Cyprus, it said.
France intervened after saying the al-Qaeda-linked militants who had taken over northern Mali threatened to march on the capital, Bamako
A regional African force is in Mali to help its army provide security.
The French-led operation drove Islamist groups out of northern cities and towns, but some fighters have retreated to desert hideouts in the vast northern region.
The troops who have been withdrawn belong to parachute units of the army, AFP news agency cited Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the chief of staff, as saying.
He said they had been deployed in the area around Tessalit, a town in the far north-east Mali near the Tegharghar mountains which saw heavy fighting against Islamists.
Nationwide elections are due in July, by which time France wants its troop presence to have been halved.
France hopes to have only 1,000 soldiers in Mali by the end of the year, handing over duties to the African force which currently numbers around 6,300 soldiers.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has suggested that an 11,000-strong UN peace force, made up of African troops, be deployed in Mali, once France reduces its presence.
Mr Ban also called for the creation of a second force to fight militants.
Remaining French troops could be part of this force, correspondents say.
Islamist groups took advantage of a coup in March 2012 to take control of the north of Mali, including major cities including Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They imposed a strict form of Islamic law in the area.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Malian soldiers backed by French fighter jets are battling fighters in Timbuktu after they used a car bomb as cover to infiltrate the northern desert city, sources say.
A Malian soldier and three rebel fighters were believed to have been killed in Sunday's fighting in the ancient Saharan trading hub 1,000km north of the capital Bamako.
A Mali government communique issued on Sunday evening said at least one Malian soldier was killed and four others had been injured.
It said that 21 rebels were killed in the fighting.
"It started after a suicide car bombing around 2200 (2200 GMT on Saturday), that served to distract the military and allow a group of jihadists to infiltrate the city by night," Captain Modibo Naman Traore of the Malian army said.
Exclusive pictures obtained by Al Jazeera from Kidal, another northern city, indicate that at least two Tuareg fighters were wounded during clashes with the rebels.
France launched its intervention in Mali in January to halt an advance by northern al-Qaeda-linked fighters towards Bamako.
The ongoing attack reflects the challenge of securing Mali as France prepares to reduce its troop presence and hand over to the ill-equipped Malian army and a more than 7,000-strong regional African force.
The French-led offensive has pushed the rebels out of their northern strongholds and remote mountain bases but they have hit back with several suicide attacks and guerrilla-style raids.
"People are really scared, but it is mostly due to the lack of information about what is happening in the city," Ousmane Halle, Timbuktu mayor, said.
This is the first major attack on the city since it was liberated by French forces on January 28.
Earlier this month a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint. That attack did not lead to an infiltration by the rebels into Timbuktu, as happened on Sunday.
Bilal Toure, a member of Timbuktu's crisis committee, said he saw a French plane firing on the rebel positions.
He said fighting had died down since nightfall.
"The situation settled down after around 1900 but everyone is still staying indoors," Toure said.
Rebels still present
Outside the heavily fortified cities like Timbuktu, the rebels are still present, leading an insurgency marked by suicide bombings, land mines and attacks on cities.
For 10 months until this January, Timbuktu as well as much of the rest of northern Mali had been ruled by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and two other groups.
Separately, Mali's defence ministry said on Saturday that two Nigerian soldiers in the regional African force were killed when their convoy struck a mine outside Ansongo, near the Niger border.
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France will reduce its troop numbers in Mali to 2,000 by July and to 1,000 by the end of the year, down from 4,000 at present.
The West African former colony is to hold presidential and legislative elections in July - vital steps to stabilising the gold- and cotton-producer after a military coup a year ago paved the way for the northern rebel takeover. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A suicide bomber attempted to force his way past the defenses of the city of Timbuktu on Saturday, detonating himself on its outskirts, while a landmine exploded in another part of northern Mali, killing a total of three, officials said.
The twin attacks come as French President Francois Hollande told French television that French forces had attained their objectives in Mali, a country which until January had lost its northern half to an al-Qaida cell and their allies. After the extremists began a southward push, Hollande unilaterally authorized a military intervention, quickly liberating the main cities in the north. Outside the heavily fortified cities like Timbuktu, however, the jihadists are still present, leading an increasingly brutal insurgency.
"The jihadist was driving a car loaded with explosives," said a military official based in Timbuktu, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. "He arrived on the road from Goundam at the Timbuktu checkpoint, and our elements opened fire. He blew himself up," killing himself and injuring at least one soldier, said the official.
Timbuktu resident Age Djitteye said he heard a loud explosion and heavy gunfire, starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday. By midnight on Sunday the shooting had receded, he said by telephone.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense also confirmed that an army vehicle drove over a landmine during a patrol around 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the northern Malian town of Ansongo, killing two people on board.
For 10 months until this January, Timbuktu as well as much of the rest of northern Mali was ruled by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as two other jihadist groups allied with the terror network.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: ABC News
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, has proposed an 11,200-strong peacekeeping force in Mali.
The force, proposed by Ban on Tuesday, would work alongside non-UN forces to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations as one option to maintain security after French forces leave the West African nation.
"Although the extremists and criminal elements have been dealt a heavy blow, they continue to pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the civilian population and any United Nations personnel deployed in Mali", the UN chief said in a report to the Security Council.
Ban said the option would give the African-led force in Mali, AFISMA, a combat role and expand the UN political mission.
The United Nations would work with the African Union and others to rapidly build up and improve the operational capabilities of the African force.
Another option presented by Ban, would be to strengthen the UN's new political mission in Mali and give the African-led force in Mali known as AFISMA, responsibility for security and offencive combat operations, in advance of a UN stabilisation mission.
The secretary-general rejected a request from Malians as well as the African Union and West African regional group for a UN force to undertake combat operations against armed groups saying this falls well outside the UN peacekeeping doctrine and peacekeepers are not trained or equipped for fighting in the deserts and mountains of northern Mali.
Fighters attacked Gao, the largest town in the north, over the weekend. It was the third major offencive there by the fighters since the town was retaken by a French-led military operation in late January.
The secretary-general said the political process in Mali is lagging "dangerously behind the military effort'' and he called for a national dialogue to be convened without delay.
He said the worrying human rights situation also needs immediate action, citing reports in the north of summary executions, illegal arrests, use of children by armed groups, rape, forced marriage and the destruction and looting of property.
The Security Council was due to be briefed on Wednesday on Ban's recommendations and diplomats hope a vote to approve the peacekeeping force can take place by mid-April.
France launched a military operation January 11 against the armed groups after they suddenly started moving south into
government-controlled areas and captured key towns.
Backed by Chadiansoldiers, French troops ousted the fighters from the major towns in northern Mali, though many went into hiding in the desert and continue to carry out attacks.
France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, has said it has no intention of keeping its 4,000 troops in Mali for the long term and plans a gradual pullout starting in April.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A French hostage has been executed in Mali, a man claiming to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in North Africa told
Mauritania's ANI news agency.
A French foreign office spokesman said late on Tuesday that they were trying to verify the report of the killing of Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in November 2011, adding that "we don't know at the moment" whether it is reliable.
In what ANI reported was a telephone call to the agency, which has close links to rebels, the commander said Philippe Verdon had been beheaded on March 10 "in response to the French military intervention in the north of Mali", ANI reported.
Verdon was one of two French hostages kidnapped in the northern Mali town of Hombori in November 2011. The French
foreign ministry declined to comment.
Another 14 French hostages are detained in Western African, including seven believed to be held in the Sahel by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates.
One of AQIM's leaders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had pledged revenge after France launched a campaign in January to dislodge the group and other fighters who had hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in the Sahel nation and seized the northern half of the country.
After driving them from the main cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in a swift, nine-week assault, some 1,600 French and Chadian troops began searching for rebels in their pocket hideouts in the mountainous region of northern Mali.
The AQIM commander described Verdon as a French spy. He said that French President Francois Hollande "bore the responsibility for the remaining hostages".
When asked by the agency whether Belmokhtar had been killed, he neither denied nor confirmed it. There have been
conflicting reports on whether Belmokhtar was killed in the French military campaign against the rebels.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke to a French radio about the operations in Mali.
"Hundreds of insurgents were killed in operations in the north of Mali. We will begin our pullout in April; we have announced in the beginning of our campaign that we don't intend to stay in Mali forever," Fabius said.
There are currently four thousand French troops stationed in Mali. Besides the Malian army, units from other African countries and two thousand Chadian troops are taking part in the operations.
France said it plans to reduce the number of its contingent beginning from March, as long as everything goes according to the plan.
Armed groups in Mali seized control over the north of the country, after a military coup took place last year. France launched an operation against armed groups in January, on grounds that they could advance Bamako.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Al Qaeda's senior field commander in the Sahara, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, has probably been killed in Mali, the head of France's joint chiefs of staff said on Monday.
Edouard Guillaud's remarks are the first indication from the French government that Abou Zeid died in fighting in the rugged north of Mali.
Asked on Europe 1 radio whether he had been killed, Guillaud said: "It is probable, but only probable. We don't have any certainty for the moment, (but) it would be good news."
Guillaud said that Abou Zeid's death could not be confirmed because his body had not been recovered.
Chad's army, which is fighting alongside French forces in northern Mali, said last week that it killed Abou Zeid and another al Qaeda commander in the area, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Guillaud said he was "extremely cautious" about reports of Belmokhtar's death, noting that some militant websites had said the al Qaeda commander behind January's mass hostage-taking in Algeria was still alive.
Abou Zeid is regarded as one of AQIM's most ruthless operators, responsible for the kidnapping of more than 20 Western hostages since 2008. He is believed to have killed British hostage Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in 2010.
While his killing would deal a serious blow to al Qaeda's leadership in the region, it also raises questions about the fate of seven French hostages thought to be held in northern Mali.
After a seven-week-old campaign, French, Chadian and Malian troops have pushed Qaeda-linked fighters, who had threatened to take over Mali, back to their mountain and desert hideouts.
Guillaud said French forces had found some 50 supply caches and around 10 workshops for making bombs that could be used well outside of the immediate region.
"On the ground we are finding literally an industrialization of terrorism," he said.-www.shfaqna.com/English