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Mali welcomes U.N. approval of military force against rebels

  • Members of Ansar Dine and Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) are seen during a meeting in Algiers on December 21, 2012. (AFP PHOTO / FAROUK BATICHE)

BAMAKO: Mali’s government Friday hailed U.N. Security Council approval for an African-led military force to reconquer the north from Islamist militants as a sign that the world would not abandon the country, while Malians living under the grip of the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels expressed dismay that it could be nearly a year before the military intervention.

“We are grateful to the international community, a consensus has been reached on the Malian situation,” said an adviser to Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore.

“We are going to wage war against the terrorists and continue to negotiate with our brothers who are ready for dialogue,” he added.

A unanimous Security Council resolution adopted Thursday gave the African-led force an initial one-year mandate to use “all necessary measures” to help Mali’s government take back territory seized in the wake of a March military coup from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups.”

However, Ansar Dine, one of three Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, denounced the U.N. resolution.

“We denounce this decision. We have always denounced the [planned] military intervention and we have said that it is not the solution,” Mohammad Ag Akharib, a representative of the armed Ansar Dine group, told reporters in Algiers.

“We are very optimistic and we ask Algeria and the international community to join us in searching for a peaceful solution” to the Mali crisis, he said.

The mayor of Timbuktu,which is controlled by Ansar Dine, has described conditions there as “a living hell.”

“We want rapid military action to liberate our cities,” said Alphadi Cisse, who lives in Timbuktu.

The 15-member Security Council insisted that military force could only be used after political efforts have been exhausted. It stated that the military plans would have to be refined and approved before any offensive started.

Another Mali politician, Mustapha Cisse, said the vote showed “the willingness of the international community not to abandon Mali to its own devices.

“We must now urgently define our priorities so that this resolution becomes a reality, so that Mali can recover sovereignty over all its territory.”

France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters Thursday that it was premature to say when the military operation would take place because African and Malian troops must be trained and much depended on the political process and the country’s weather.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups and other Islamists who have taken over regions in northern Mali have imposed a brutal form of Shariah after taking advantage of the temporary power vacuum left by the coup in Bamako.

In response, West African nations have put together a force of some 3,300 troops ready to go to Mali to help rebuild the army and support a military operation, which is not expected to start before September next year.

However, some in Mali oppose a foreign military intervention in the country’s vast desert north.

“Mali must take its own destiny in hand and find a solution itself. We are against a deployment of foreign troops in Mali,” said Omar Coulibaly, a supporter of the March coup by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who remains an influential force in Bamako.

Former colonial power France drew up the Mali resolution after weeks of talks with the United States, which had expressed doubts that the proposed Economic Community of West African States force would be tough enough for the desert battle against the militants.

The United States finally co-sponsored the resolution and is expected to become a major backer of the new force. Paris and Washington are already working with the Malian army.

The resolution calls for political efforts to draw the Tuareg rebels in the north into a coalition against the Islamists. In parallel, European nations and the international force, the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, will train Mali’s enfeebled army.

The Security Council also called on the transitional authorities in Bamako to re-establish constitutional order and hold elections before April 2013.

The resolution said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, ECOWAS, the African Union and other states involved will have to secure “the council’s satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation” before hostilities can start.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 22, 2012, on page 8.
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