France in Africa
Malian security forces have killed civilians in the town of Niono in central Mali (Ségou region), Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Jan. 20. HRW said that Mali's army has been targeting ethnic groups associated with rebels in the north, particularly Tuaregs and Arabs. HRW called on Mali's government, as well as France and West African nations to ensure that civilians are protected from violence. During the ongoing fighting between the Malian government and Islamist rebels, HRW has accused both sides of committing human rights violations, and urged rebel groups earlier this week to release all child soldiers.
Amid sketchy and conflicting reports of how much territory the jihadists have gained in their southern thrust and to what extent last week's French air-strikes have halted it, BBC News tells us Jan. 16 that French ground forces are now engaged in the battle for the town of Diabaly, just 220 miles north of Mali's capital, Bamako. A convoy of 50 armored vehicles left Bamako overnight for Diabaly, seemingly a joint force of French and Malian troops. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "Today, the ground forces are being deployed. Until now, we had made sure there were a few ground forces in Bamako to keep our people safe... Now French ground forces are heading up north."
France carried out air-strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali Jan. 11, helping government forces halt a drive southward by the militants who control the country's desert north. France also evidently has introduced ground forces, with President Francois Hollande saying French troops "have brought support this afternoon to Malian units to fight against terrorist elements." He added: "This operation will last as long as is necessary." Combined Malian and French forces turned back a rebel advance, retaking the town of Konna (Mopti region, see map) that had been seized by a mixed force of the militant groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO, apparently with fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali's government declared a nation-wide state of emergency as the counter-offensive was launched.
Rebels in the Central African Republic Dec. 23 seized the key city of Bambari—the country's third largest—as part of their new offensive. The rebels—known as the Seleka coalition—have seized several towns north of the capital in recent weeks, charging that President Francois Bozize has failed to uphold a 2007 peace deal. The Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed with former rebel groups, called for the release of prisoners and compensation to ex-combatants. The renewed insurgents also oppose plans by Bozize to alter the constitution to seek a third term, according to a statement signed by Seleka secretary general Justin Mambissi Matar.
As Islamist miltias have established Taliban-like rule in northern Mali since taking the vast territory in March, regional powers have been muddling towards military intervention. On Nov. 21, Reuters reported that "military experts from Africa, the United Nations and Europe have drafted plans to retake control of northern Mali." We are told that "African leaders will this month seek a UN mandate to send a mainly West African force of some 4,000 to Mali to...back military operations to retake swathes of the Sahara desert from rebels." Quoted is Stephen O'Brien, the UK's first special envoy to the Sahel, speaking from Nigeria: "This deep insecurity... we have to recognize that, unless it is checked and it is not met, then it will have the potential for export." He called the Mali crisis was "a universal threat" with "the capability of threatening interests outside the...region." While no other European countries are mentioned, we may assume that France will play a leading role.