France in Africa
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson on April 12 called on the international community to protect Burkina Faso from terrorism, warning that attacks on the country's infrastructure or security would undermine social cohesion within the country, impair inward investment and further destabilize the region. Burkina Faso is particularly vulnerable due to its geographical proximity to the conflict in Mali, with which it shares a border. Emmerson described the country's role in regional peace negotiations:
It was one year ago that Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of the vast desert north of Mali, and declared an independent state in the remote territory which had long been a sort of internal colony. But within weeks, control of Azawad was usurped by jihadist factions, who drove the MNLA from the territory. After months of harsh sharia rule in northern Mali, France intervened late last year, helped government forces drive back the jihadists, and established tenuous control over the north. Sporadic fighting continues, and the MNLA have joined the offensive against the Islamists, while stressing their independence from the French and government forces. The MNLA now have control of the town of Kidal, in an uneasy alliance with French-backed Chadian troops. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visting the capital Bamako last week, said the MNLA will have to accept being disarmed and "confined." An AP report of April 7 noted celebrations by Tuaregs on the anniversary of the MNLA's takeover, but also implied that the rebel group has abandoned its separatist aspirations. Moussa ag-Assaride, the MNLA's communications chief, was cited as saying he knew that many in northern Mali are not aware that the group officially is no longer seeking independence. "But that doesn't stop the population from showing their joy," he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced a "permanent" military mission in Mali April 5. Fabius, on a visit to Bamako, the capital, said Paris is moving ahead with plans to reduce its 4,000-strong military force beginning next month, but will maintain a combat presence in Mali to support a future UN "peacekeeping" mission. "France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men, which would be permanent, based in Mali and equipped to fight terrorism," Fabius said. (Reuters, April 5)
Malian troops swept Timbuktu for remaining Islamist fighters after a battle that left seven dead and prompted France to send reinforcements and fighter jets April 1. The fighters apparently infiltrated Timbuktu after using a car bomb to create a distraction. The previous day, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the city, raising fears of a new wave of violence as the European Union launches an ambitious program to overhaul Mali's army. "Objectively, it must be entirely rebuilt," said French general Francois Lecointre, who heads the EU training mission in Mali.
The UN Security Council on March 28 unanimously approved the first-ever "offensive" UN peacekeeping brigade, to fight rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force of more than 2,500 troops will operate under orders to "neutralize" and "disarm" rebel forces in the resource-rich east of the country. The intervention brigade is unprecedented in UN peacekeeping because of its offensive mandate. The resolution states that it will be established for one year "on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent" to the principles of UN peacekeeping. The force, to be deployed in July, will include troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. The UN currently has some 18,000 troops in the DRC, and has been widely accused of doing little to stop the violence in the eastern region. The latest rebellion flared a year ago, and has forced some 800,000 from their homes.
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)
Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
President Obama announced Feb. 22 that about 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to help set up a new base for supposedly unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance in the region. The new drone base is to be located for now in the capital, Niamey. The only permanent US base in Africa is in Djibouti, but Niamey may now constitute a second. (NYT, Feb. 22) Also Feb. 22, Chad announced that 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels were killed in a fierce battle in the mountain region of Adrar des Ifoghas, on Mali's border with Algeria. In other fighting that day, at Tessalit, on the edge of the mountains, two vehicles carrying civilians and members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group exploded, killing three and wounding several others. (VOA, Feb. 22) A second car bomb attack in Khalil, on the Algerian border, left five MNLA fighters dead. (Reuters, France24, Feb. 22)