France won't delay Mali troop reductions
06 November 2013, 13:09
Paris/Bamako - France will stick to the timetable for its
troop withdrawal from Mali despite a resurgence in violence and the killing of
two French journalists at the weekend, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on
France, which sent soldiers to its former colony in January
to combat militants who had taken over large swathes of the country, has
already delayed by two months plans to reduce troop numbers to 1 000, from 3 200,
which was originally scheduled for the end of the year.
Fabius, speaking on RFI radio, confirmed the French army had
redeployed 150 soldiers from the south to Kidal, the Tuareg rebel stronghold in
the north, where instability has grown in recent months and where the
journalists were abducted.
"President [Hollande] immediately decided to strengthen
our presence in Kidal, but that does not put into question the calendar and the
reduction of French forces," Fabius said.
The strength of Malian forces and the UN peacekeeping troops
would also be increased, he said.
France launched air strikes and sent thousands of soldiers
into Mali in January to drive back al-Qaeda-linked rebels it said could turn
Mali into a base for militant attacks.
Islamists scattered during the French assault and a
presidential election was held in August that brought Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to
Legislative elections are due on 24 November, but the
journalists' deaths follow a string of attacks in the desert zone of northern
Last month Malian and international forces launched a big
operation to keep pressure on Islamist groups.
Although Malian, UN and French troops are stationed in
Kidal, none are heavily deployed. The Malian army's contingent is generally
symbolic and soldiers are confined to their base.
About 200 UN peacekeepers (MINUSMA) are officially in
control of security and France also has about 200 troops, though their
operations in the region have focused on the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains to the
north, which served for years as a hide-out for militants.
French and Malian forces are hunting the killers of the
journalists and questioning suspects. Fabius suggested Paris believed Islamist
militants were behind the attack.
"We are following all leads," Fabius told
parliament on Tuesday. "What the government wants is that those who
committed this crime are tracked down, caught and punished."
A team of seven French investigators arrived in Mali on
Tuesday and had started taking fingerprints from the car left abandoned where
the journalists were killed, a French police source said.
"What I can tell you is that the investigation is
moving forward, but I can't tell you who has been arrested or how many
people," Kidal governor Adama Kamissoko told Reuters.