x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

France seeks help with Mali from GCC, says strikes 'achieve goal'

Francois Hollande, the French president, while touring his country's Peace Camp base in Abu Dhabi, said that there are 750 French troops in Mali.

There are 750 French soldiers stationed in Mali, the French president said on Tuesday. Issouf Sanogo / AFP
There are 750 French soldiers stationed in Mali, the French president said on Tuesday. Issouf Sanogo / AFP

ABU DHABI // France expects GCC states to help an African campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, possibly with materials or financing, the French foreign minister said today.

In response to questions from reporters, Laurent Fabius said the presence of French troops on the ground in Mali, an Islamic country, would not galvanise Al Qaeda recruitment in the region.

He said donors would meet towards the end of the month to finance an African push against Al Qaeda-linked fighters.

Asked how confident he was about getting troops from Gulf countries for deployment, Mr Fabius said: "Everybody has to commit to oneself in fighting against terrorism. We are pretty confident that the Emirates will go into that direction as well."

He said France and the Gulf states were discussing the latter's possible contribution.

"We shall have a discussion with the authorities in the Emirates. There are different ways of helping, it can be through materials, can be through financing," Fabius said.

Earlier, the French president, Francois Hollande, who is visiting Abu Dhabi, said 750 French troops have joined the offensive against in Mali where overnight strikes "achieved their goal".

"For now, we have 750 men and the number will increase ... so that as soon as possible we can leave the place to the African forces," said Mr Hollande during a visit to Peace Camp in Abu Dhabi, his country's only military base in the region.

"France will continue to have ground and air forces," he said, adding that deployment of African forces in Mali "will take at least a week".

French forces have, since Friday, been supporting an offensive by Malian government troops against Islamist groups which have controlled the north of the vast country since April last year.

The military intervention has driven Islamists fighters from their strongholds in the north but the rebels on Monday pushed farther into the government-held south, seizing the town of Diabaly, 400 kilometres north of the capital.

Mr Hollande flew early into the UAE early today where soon after his arrival held talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Abu Dhabi.

Mauritania, Mali's western neighbour, ordered its troops to seal the border to prevent Islamists fighters from escaping into their territory.

Mr Hollande was to hold meetings with the rulers and senior officials from Abu Dhabi and Dubai during his one-day visit.

On the presidential plane that left Paris late on Monday, Mr Hollande's entourage said that some 700 soldiers in the French base in Abu Dhabi along with six Rafale jets stationed there were on alert if needed to participate in the Mali offensive.

"Mali is still not in our field of action for now ... [but] if we receive orders, we will implement them," said an official at the base.

* Reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse