x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

African intervention to oust Mali Islamists in 'a matter of weeks'

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, said that France would "not send troops on the ground", but would provide "logistical aid" and help in planning.

PARIS // An African intervention to oust Islamist militants from the north of Mali will start "in a matter of weeks", Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, said today.

"It's a matter of weeks, not months, weeks," the minister told France 2 television, calling the region that was overrun by the extremists this year "a terrorist sanctuary".

He however reiterated that France would "not send troops on the ground", but would provide "logistical aid" and help in planning.

Mr Le Drian said UN guidelines for such action would have to be respected.

The UN Security Council on Friday gave a 45-day deadline for intervention, saying the plan should include "means and modalities of the envisaged deployment, in particular the concept of operations," personnel needed and a cost estimate.

The text, which was mainly drafted by France, also urges authorities in Bamako and representatives of "Malian rebel groups" controlling the north to "engage, as soon as possible, in a credible negotiation process."

In March, military coup leaders seized power in Mali's southern capital Bamako, ousting president Amadou Toumani Toure, only to see the country's north and east fall to Tuareg rebels and militias linked to Al Qaeda.

A west African regional grouping is preparing to send an intervention force into northern Mali to wrest back control of the region, where Islamists have sidelined the Tuareg separatists and imposed sharia law.