19 January 2013

West African Leaders Address Mali Crisis

West African leaders are to meet in Cote d'Ivoire to discuss how best to coordinate military action in Mali.

They are expected to discuss plans to deploy African troops in support of French and Malian soldiers already in action against Islamic insurgents.

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, will also be taking part in the talks in Abidjan.

Islamist fighters on Friday withdrew from two towns in central Mali following French air strikes.

Officials say the Islamists have now left the southern town of Diabaly, which they took on Monday, while Mali's army has also recaptured Konna, which was seized by rebels triggering the French intervention.

The first 100 troops of an African force landed in the capital, Bamako, on Thursday.

The soldiers from Togo and Nigeria are part of a long-planned West African force that will join the French and Malian armies in fighting the Islamist insurgents who took over northern Mali last year.

But questions have been raised about the African forces' ability to fight well-armed Islamist militants, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy.

The regional troops are being deployed in the conflict under a UN Security Council resolution.

The original UN-backed strategy to reclaim northern Mali from Islamist rebels had France - among other Western powers - providing logistical support to an African-led force, adds our correspondent, but it is now clear that French troops will remain at the frontline of operations.

Nigeria will lead the West African force, with Chad, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo also sending soldiers.

Nigeria says it will increase its forces to 1,200.

Chad has confirmed it will send 2,000 soldiers and it may also contribute its air force, considered one of the most effective on the continent.

France says it now has 1,800 troops in Mali after intervening initially with air strikes to try to halt a rapid advance by the Islamists.

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