x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hollande: France will have peacekeeping role in Mali

French troops will take part in a future UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, after they end their task of clearing rebels linked to Al Qaeda out of the west African country's vast northern region.

RABAT // French troops will take part in a future UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, after they end their task of clearing rebels linked to Al Qaeda out of the west African country's vast northern region.

The French president, Francois Hollande, made the announcement yesterday as he spoke to Morocco's parliament, part of a two-day visit celebrating the close cooperation between the nations.

"France will soon complete its mission [in Mali] in a few weeks, and African forces will take over." he said. "The security council is going to deploy a peacekeeping operation and France will play its part."

He said that scenario was based on the condition that an "indispensable" dialogue takes place between the factions in Mali and the nation's government in Bamako, and on the resumption of the democratic process.

Elections in Mali are due to take place in July.

Mali was plunged into turmoil after a coup in March last year created a security vacuum.

It allowed secular rebel Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by Mali's government, to take half of the country's vast north as a new homeland.

But months later, their struggle was co-opted by Islamist militants, who imposed strict Sharia in the north.

France launched a military operation on January 11 against extremists, many of them linked to Al Qaeda, after they suddenly started moving south towards the capital and captured key towns.

Backed by Chadian soldiers, the French troops forced the radical fighters out of major towns in northern Mali.

However, many went into hiding in the desert and have continued to carry out attacks.

Mr Hollande said last week that France's force of more than 4,000 troops in Mali would start to pull out later this month and would be down to 2,000 soldiers by July.

Only 1,000 would remain by the end of the year, he added.

Mr Hollande also took the opportunity yesterday to describe Morocco's autonomy plan for the Western Sahara region, which it annexed in 1976, as "credible".