‘Stand by us,’ Mali urges world

AFP, BRUSSELS

Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 7

Mali urged the international community to stand by its side to drive out Islamist extremists from its territory as the UN, the African Union and other global players met in Brussels yesterday.

“The threat concerns all civilized countries,” Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly said as he arrived for talks to anchor long-term peace and stability once the military offensive against Islamist rebel forces is over.

“The entire world must gather around us to chase the jihadists from our soil,” he said as about 45 delegations from African and European nations, along with donor and aid groups, stepped into the meeting of the “Mali support and follow-up group.”

“We need to prepare the future,” a senior EU official said ahead of the talks. “When a state falls apart it takes time to put it together again, like Humpty Dumpty.”

At the top of the political agenda will be the dispatch of human rights observers, amid fears of rights abuse and revenge killings, as well as financing the deployment of about 8,000 African troops.

US Vice President Joe Biden this week joined French President Francois Hollande in calling for a UN mission to eventually take over the baton in Mali from the African-led force once French forces move out.

“We are favourable to this,” said Ivorian African Integration Minister Ali Coulibaly, whose country chairs the west African regional body ECOWAS.

Diplomats say there is a clear need for a UN force to police the country as the ramshackle Malian army remains incapable of reconquering the remote corners of the vast, arid nation.

After a three-week campaign by French-led forces drove the extremists from strongholds, including the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, French fighter jets have pounded Islamist supply bases in Mali’s mountainous northeast, near the Algerian border.

“It is about destroying their rear bases, their depots,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday. “They have taken refuge in the north and the northeast, but they can only stay there long-term if they have ways to replenish their supplies.”

The radical Islamists have fled into the Adrar des Ifoghas massif in the Kidal region, a craggy mountain landscape honeycombed with caves.