Mali, 22 Rabiul Awwal 1434/ 2 february 2013 (MINA) – President Francois Hollande has arrived in the central garrison town of Sevare, to meet French troops and begin talks about a military hand over to west African troops, amid allegations of civilian deaths from air strikes and ethnic reprisals during the military intervention.
Hollande’s visit to Mali comes as the French-led military intervention in the country to recapture towns from al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups was swiftly coming to a close, according to A-Jazeera report monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA), Saturday.
“I am going to Mali to express to our soldiers all our support, encouragement and pride,” Hollande said.
“I’m also going to ensure that African forces come and join us as quickly as possible and to tell them we need them for this international force,” he added.
He is also expected to comment on France’s withdrawal from Mali after securing the country’s main towns.
The Malian presidency said Hollande would land in the central garrison town of Sevare early on Saturday, then travel to Timbuktu to meet troops and visit the 700-year-old mud mosque of Djingareyber and the Ahmed Baba library.
The military campaign has met little resistance, with many of the rebels believed to have slipped into the desert hills around Kidal,
the rebels’ last bastion which French-led troops were poised to secure on Saturday.
France is to gradually hand over its military operation to nearly
8,000 African troops slowly being deployed, which the United Nations is considering turning into a formal UN peacekeeping operation.
Its mission will be to secure northern towns and pursue rebel fighters into their mountain redoubts near Algeria’s border.
A first contingent of Chadian troops has now entered the town, a
Malian security source said, and French soldiers are stationed at the
airport, which they captured on Wednesday.
Malian and French abuses versus rebel abuse
Malian and French troops have come under criticism for alleged summary executions and other rights abuses against light-skinned citizens seen locally as supporters of the al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
Malian troops have denied the allegations. Human Rights Watch said in a report corroborated by other rights groups that Malian troops had shot at least 13 suspected rebel supporters in Sevare and dumped them into wells.
“Neither the Malians nor the French took the required precautions to avoid hitting civilian targets,” Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty’s lead
researcher for West Africa, told a news conference in Bamako.
“We’ve asked France and authorities in Bamako to open an independent investigation.”
France has denied responsibility for these attacks, saying that these attacks took place before its intervention began.
Many Tuaregs and Arabs had already fled fearing further attacks.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighter groups have also come under criticism for rights abuses with HRW and Amnesty saying that children had been recruited as soldiers.
The French-led campaign, provoked by a southward rebel advance thatsparked fears the entire country could become a terrorist haven, has claimed a rapid succession of victories in key rebel strongholds.
But German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said there are mounting warnings that Mali will need long-term help to address the crisis, as he opened a major security conference in Munich.
“A military intervention is only the beginning of a long process to find a lasting solution to the conflict,” he said.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday that French forces had rolled back rebels in Mali “much faster” than the United States had expected but now face the daunting task of building long-term security in the region. (T/P07/E1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)