W African leaders urge global support on Mali

ECOWAS bloc holds meeting in Ivory Coast as France asks African nations to join fight against Ansar al-Dine-led rebels.

West African leaders meeting at an emergency summit in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan have urged more global involvement to help ward off rebels in Mali.

Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast president, who is also current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, said on Saturday that it was high time others did their bit to help end the crisis.

“The hour has come for a broader commitment by the major powers and more countries and organisations to the military operations to show greater solidarity with France and Africa,” he said.

“We must speed up the re-establishment of Mali’s territorial integrity with the logistical support of our partners … [and] go beyond our current deployment numbers,” Ouattara said, calling for international financial support for African nations involved in the Mali effort. 

African leaders were also urged to fast-track the deployment of African troops to boost a French-backed offensive in Mali against fighters led by the al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Dine.

Timbuktu air strikes
Meanwhile, the French air force bombed rebel position in Timbuktu. An Al Jazeera reporter witnessed three air stikes  – at 8pm, 8:30pm and 1am local time – on Saturday and Sunday morning.
One of the strikes hit a compound that used to belong to Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi, which the Mali rebel leadership was using as its base in the town. The French have not confirmed the strikes.
Speaking at the Ivory Coast summit, Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, said: “France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly, otherwise there would have been no more Mali … but it is well understood that it is the Africans that must pick up the baton.”

Saturday’s meeting in Abidjan comes after Malian soldiers, backed by French troops and air power, retook a key central town from rebels who had advanced from their northern stronghold, threatening the capital Bamako.

The developments came as French President Francois Hollande reiterated on Saturday that French troops would only leave Mali once the “terrorists were defeated”. 

“I am often asked the question: how long will this last? I reply … ‘As long as is necessary’. As long as is necessary so that terrorism can be defeated in that part of Africa,” he said in Tulle, France.

As fighting continued, Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed reports by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), saying it had received reports of horrific abuses being committed in Mali.

HRW said it had received credible reports of serious abuses, including killings, being committed by Malian security forces against civilians around the central town of Niono.

“We urge the Malian authorities, as well as the French and [West African] soldiers/authorities to do their utmost to ensure the protection of all civilians,” the New York-based group said in a statement. 

HRW said that Tuaregs and Arabs, ethnic groups most associated with rebels who have controlled Mali’s north, were being especially targeted. 

Mali’s army was not immediately available for comment.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Bamako, quoted the Ansar al-Dine as saying that a French air raid hit one of their vehicles killing two of their fighters as they were attempting to leave the town of Diabaly.

“There are reports the rebels are leaving their pickups and other vehicles and moving on foot with the civilians in an attempt to avoid French air strikes,” she said.

Against this backdrop of conflict, concerns about the humanitarian situation in Mali have mounted, with a UN agency voicing fear that fighting could displace 700.000 more people in the coming months.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies