Stop radical Islamists in Mali: French President



Paris: African forces must intervene in northern Mali to rid the country of radical Islamists, French President Francois Hollande has said, dismissing any notion that negotiations could be a substitute for military force.

Hollande said, yesterday in a TV interview a day before a trip to Africa that he is optimistic the Security Council will accept France's draft resolution setting out the principle of a military intervention. He said the international community is at one in fighting terrorism. "All nations are aware of the stakes," he said.

France has taken a leading role in the crisis in Mali, a former colony. It circulated the resolution this week, and Hollande said he would like to see it passed "in the coming days."

Asked if negotiations were an option ahead of a possible intervention, Hollande said in the France 24 interview: "Discussing… But with whom? With terrorists... Who cut off hands and who destroy monuments of the World Heritage Sites?"

Islamist radicals took over northern Mali after a March military coup, pushing aside Tuareg rebels who filled the power vacuum in the vast north. But Islamists, including an al-Qaida affiliate, quickly took control. They have meted out brutal punishment to those who refuse to abide by their strict Shariah law, destroyed ancient monuments of local saints and taken Westerners hostage. Six French kidnapped in the Sahel region are currently being held, likely in northern Mali.

While insisting that a military intervention must be carried out only by Africans, Hollande reiterated France's willingness to provide logistical support, namely material and training.

"There will be no (French) troops on the ground," he said.

Mali's transitional government and the West African regional group ECOWAS had asked the Security Council in September to authorise a military intervention to oust the Islamists. The council said it wanted ECOWAS to prepare a "feasible" plan with "detailed options" for a force, and to coordinate with other African nations and the European Union.

The French resolution lays down the principle for a force. A second resolution would follow, laying out what the force would be, Hollande said. "It is the Africans who decide," he said.

Algeria, where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has its base, and shares a border with Mali, is widely seen as dragging its feet over agreeing to action. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon voiced prudence during a recent visit to Paris.

PTI