Brussels, 26 Rabiul Awwal 1434/ 6 February 2013 (MINA) – Governments and international organizations meet on Tuesday (5/2) in Brussels to discuss Mali’s future, according to Al Jazeera reports monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).
The talks also discuss finding ways to reinforce military gains against Islamist militants in northern Mali by supporting democracy, economic development and human rights in one of the world’s poorest countries. The Delegations were from the African Union, United Nations, European Union and the West African regional body ECOWAS.
The rapid progress of French-led military forces against islamist militants in the country’s north has now put diplomatic focus on how to ensure lasting peace in the country.
Tuesday’s talks focused on giving delegates an update on the military situation and humanitarian affairs, Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan reported from Brussels.
The delegates also discussed the political process following the conflict, and arrangements for holding elections by July 31 as planned. More than 40 delegations are attending the meeting, which is being hosted by the EU.
“The priority that they’re putting forward is that elections are held as soon as possible,” Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reported from Bamako, the Malian capital.
The conference is focusing on rebuilding Mali’s economy and creating structures that allow for all Malians to be represented in government.
In France, President Francois Hollande, whose decision to intervene in Mali won him a hero’s welcome there during a whirlwind tour on Saturday, defended the decision to send troops in his first address to the European parliament since taking office.
“There was no time to lose,” he said, otherwise “terrorism would have conquered all of Mali”.
“Ultimately, the success of our support to the Malian people will depend on the effective combination of our political and security efforts,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the meeting, which also included the participation of regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
On the ground, in northern Mali, French soldiers are now in control of Kidal, formerly the last stronghold of the fighters Ansar al-Dine.
The French push in the northeast involved fighter jets targeted rebel hideouts and fuel depots in the desert on Tuesday, near the Algerian border.
The French defence ministry said 1,800 Chadian troops had entered Kidal to “secure” the Saharan outpost, after days of air strikes in the surrounding mountains where fighters were believed to be hiding in hillside caves.
Also on Tuesday, eight militants were captured in Gao, and are expected to be transferred to Bamako where they will eventually stand trial. They include six Malians, a Nigerian and an Algerian man.
After a three-week military campaign by French-led forces drove the militants from most of their strongholds, including the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, dozens of French warplanes on Sunday carried out major air strikes on rebel training and logistics centres in Mali’s mountainous northeast, near the Algerian border.
“It is about destroying their rear bases, their depots,” Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told France Inter radio.
France says it is eager to hand over security in Mali to about 8,000 African troops, gradually deploying to the country under a UN-backed plan.
During his Mali visit, Hollande said while France had plans to pull out from the country, French troops would not leave until it had driven out all the fighters .
For his part, Fabius said: “We want to be rapidly relieved by the AFISMA African forces in the cities that we hold.”
In Paris, US Vice President Joe Biden, after meeting Hollande, said the UN should make the African mission a formal UN peacekeeping operation, a plan UN officials say they are pushing forward.
The EU thinks it can help quickly by releasing some of the 250m euros ($342m) of development aid it froze after a coup in Mali in March last year.
“When a state falls apart, it takes a while to put it back together again … Nevertheless, we need to try,” a senior EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The country is also experiencing a crippling food crisis which has put an estimated 18 million people at risk of starvation across the Sahel.
The UN said on Tuesday it had also resumed food aid operations in northern Mali, which were frozen after a French-led offensive began.
“The World Food Programme has relaunched its distribution of food and nutritional supplements in the north of Mali,” Elisabeth Byrs, the UN food agency’s spokeswoman, said in Geneva.
The International Red Cross said despite the retreat of the militants, residents who had fled fighting, estimated by the UN at over 350,000, were also hesitant to return home, with only 7,000 in central Mali returning so far. (T/P07/ E1)
Miraj News Agency(MINA)