"Mali, France and Morocco have been ceaselessly working hand in hand within international organizations to defend Mali's integrity and sovereignty," - French and Malian Ambassadors"
Morocco, thirty-four other countries, and the European Union this past week offered their support and pledged funds to help Mali end months of occupation by al-Qaeda-linked forces and the Islamist extremist group Ansar al-Din.
The international support comes as French and Malian forces celebrate the liberation of the northern Mali cities of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal, and are being joined by African forces to carry out the difficult next step - tracking down an estimated 4,000 extremist militants in the desert and mountain hideouts to which they retreated.
The French and Malian ambassadors to Morocco, Charles Fries and Toumani Djimé Diallo, offered praise for Morocco's role in mobilizing support for Mali a jointly authored commentary in Le Matin du Sahara et du Maghreb. "Mali, France and Morocco have been ceaselessly working hand in hand within international organizations to defend Mali's integrity and sovereignty," the diplomats wrote, underscoring the efforts Morocco has undertaken since the start of the crisis.
With Morocco in the presidency, the UN Security Council in December adopted resolution 2085 sanctioning deployment of the African forces arriving in Mali. Morocco was also the first country to send a humanitarian assistance and this past week announced a contribution of 5 million dollars to the Malians. In addition, Morocco opened its air space, along with Algeria, enabling overflight by French jets supporting the advance of French and Mali troops to Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal.
"With the liberation of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, three weeks after the call for assistance by the Malian president, the Malian army and the French armies have not only contributed to restore Mali's integrity, but they also defended the security of all, including the security of France and Morocco," the two diplomats added.
For the European Union, Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, confirmed the contribution of €50 million to support the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA).
"By providing a substantial financial support to AFISMA, the European Union is sending a strong message that we are serious about actively supporting Mali in maintaining its unity and territorial integrity and bringing back peace and stability to the region," Piebalgs stated.
He added: "The African Peace Facility could cover nonâÂ€Â‘military expenditures like medical expenses, daily allowances and transport costs of the troops deployed on the ground.
In parallel we are preparing new programs to provide assistance to the civilian population, who are severely affected by the crisis, and to assist the Malian government's efforts towards the swift restoration of democracy in line with the roadmap recently adopted."
A conference at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Jan. 29th aimed at providing financial support for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). The financial assistance package would also preserve the gains already achieved on the ground by Malian, African and French troops.
AU chairman and Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn offered his "sincere gratitude" at the pledges, which totalled 336 million euros. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU, however, had said they would need at least 737 million euros to fund both humanitarian aid and the needs of African forces.
In his remarks to the donors, Malian President Dioncounda Traore voiced appreciation for their support and promised elections before July 31st.
"The real battle will start now, which is dealing with the challenges of preserving security and countering attempts by jihadist groups to react," Malian journalist Moussa Coulibaly told Magharebia.
"The funds are also important for military supplies and for sustaining the populations in controlled areas because they may show greater co-operation with those who pay them, provide them with a living and make them feel secure, given that some local residents could still co-operate with the terrorist gangs," he said.
Meanwhile, Mauritania beefed up security on its border to prevent any potential infiltration by terrorists fleeing the advancing Malian troops. But according to a Mauritanian trader who works near the Mali border, the tide is already turning against the armed Islamists.
"There is no doubt that most of the young people who were recruited by Ansar al-Din have abandoned the group and joined their families at refugee camps in Mauritania and other neighbouring countries," al-Salek Ould Abdel Kader said.
"As to the few who really believe in jihadist ideology, they have withdrawn to the Ifoghas mountains near Kidal," the trader told Magharebia. Ould Abdel Kader doubts, however, that any attempt by the terrorists to regroup would be effective. "African forces will impose their control over the entire area in the next weeks," he said.