14 January 2013

Mali: UNSC to Meet On Mali

Photo: HCR/Y.Djigo
Malians fleeing fighting in the north.

Pretoria — The UN Security Council will hold a meeting on Monday at France's request to discuss the situation in Mali, while Paris got authorization to use Algeria's airspace for its operation in the western African country.

Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for France's UN mission, said the meeting, scheduled for Monday afternoon, was a French initiative "to inform the council and proceed with an exchange of views between members of the council and with the UN secretariat."

Fighting raged in the past days after the Malian government and rebels failed to reach any deal in talks on a solution to the country's crisis.

On Friday, Paris confirmed its military operations in Mali to back government forces in fighting the advancing rebels, who had seized the central town of Konna and threatened the southern part of Mali, including the capital of Bamako.

French President Francois Hollande said although the intervention had halted the rebels' southward advance, his country's mission was not over.

According to French broadcaster, France's military engagement in Mali and possible further steps to stabilize the country are expected to be discussed at Monday's meeting.

The French government has urged the UN Security Council to speed up the deployment of a 3300-strong African intervention force, which is to back the Malian army's operation to retake northern Mali.

The military intervention plan was drawn up out of fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for terrorism and drug- and human-trafficking.

Late last year, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the force to restore Mali's territorial integrity and constitutional rule. But before the eruption of hostilities last week, no offensive into the northern part of the country was expected before September.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed on Sunday that Algeria has allowed French forces to use its airspace for military operations in Mali.

"Algeria has authorized unlimited access to fly over its territory, for which I thank the Algerian authorities," Fabius said.

"We have regular talks with Algeria," he said, adding that the two sides are in discussion to make sure that "if the African troops move to the north, the Algerians would have to close their border."

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also confirmed that four French Rafale fighter jets bombed Islamist rebels' position near the northern Malian town of Gao on Sunday, saying the armed Islamic groups' training camps and logistical depots were destroyed.

According to military observers, the airstrikes marked a turning point of France's military operation in Mali. Before Sunday's airstrikes, the French forces had particularly taken action in central Mali to prevent Islamist forces from pushing forward to the south of the country.

France's intervention in Mali has been backed by the European Union and the United States, while Britain is providing logistical support in the form of transport planes. - SAnews.gov.za- Xinhua

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