African leaders discuss speedy deployment of troops to Mali

January 19, 2013 9:33 am
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A girl looks out from a bus as Malian soldiers prepare to check the vehicle and passengers at a checkpoint in the city of Niono, on January 18, 2013/AFP
A girl looks out from a bus as Malian soldiers prepare to check the vehicle and passengers at a checkpoint in the city of Niono, on January 18, 2013/AFP
BAMAKO, Jan 19 – West African leaders and France were poised to meet Saturday at an emergency summit in Ivory Coast to fast track the deployment of African troops and boost a French-backed offensive in Mali against Islamist rebels.

The meeting in the port city of Abidjan comes after Malian soldiers, backed by French troops and air power, retook a key central town from rebels swooping down from their northern stronghold and threatening the capital Bamako.

France, which began the military operation codenamed Serval after Konna fell to Al-Qaeda-linked fighters on January 11, will be represented by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

“I will go there with a military attaché and we will see with our African friends how we can speed up the deployment of MISMA,” or the International Mission for Mali Assistance, Fabius told AFP.

France has already put nearly two-thirds of the 2,500 troops it has pledged on the ground in Mali, amid fears that the vast arid north which the rebels control could become a haven for Islamist militants and threaten security both in the region and overseas.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has pledged to boost the French effort with a total of about 5,800 troops. But only about a 100 have actually reached Mali.

Oil-rich Chad, whose battle-hardened soldiers are experienced in fending off rebel attacks on their territory and have been deployed in neighbouring countries such as the Central African Republic, has promised 2,000 troops.

Regional powerhouse Nigeria subsequently promised to boost its troop allotment for Mali from a planned 900 to 1,200 soldiers.

Chadian leader Idriss Deby Itno is due to attend the summit along with Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore.

“The war has been forced by the refusal of the criminal movements and terrorists of the offers of peace,” ECOWAS president Desire Kadre Ouedraogo said, highlighting the urgency to “accelerate the deployment of MISMA.”

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