NewsWest AfricaFrance and UN count cost in troubled Mali


Posted on Wednesday, 27 February 2013 15:33

France and UN count cost in troubled Mali

By Konye Obaji Ori

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (centre) says the fighting in Mali has reached the remote mountain terrain of southern Sahara/Photo©ReutersThe war in Mali has entered a phase of economic concerns as French troops engage jihadists in the mountains of northern Mali, at a growing cost.


Almost seven weeks after France spearheaded the war on northern Mali's jihadist groups, the scale of combat has undermined talks of a quick French withdrawal.

Suggesting a progressive withdrawal, Laurent Fabius, France's Foreign Minister, had told Metro (a local newspaper) early February that "from March, if everything goes as planned, the number of troops will be reduced".

The battle is now clearly between France and its allied forces against Ag Ghali's armed extremists.

And with the cost of intervention now at more than €100 million ($133 million) and counting since it started on January 11, the humanitarian aid needed for displaced people is also adding up as tell-tale cracks on France's money box begin to show.

France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian evoked war's financial stress on his country when he spoke on France's RTL radio on Tuesday.

But France is not alone. John Ging, a senior UN humanitarian affair official has also announced that more than 430,000 Malians have been displaced, and the UN would need about $373 million in aid.

So far only $17 million has been raised for displaced Malians, the UN Humanitarian Affairs says.

When France and Malian forces first engaged the jihadists of northern Mali, they took back cities there with minimal force.

The French-led intervention in January turned the tide of the Ag Ghali's rebels, forcing them to escape to mountainous hideouts near the Algeria border.

But Le Drian paints a different picture now, describing the fighting as rougher as it reaches the remote mountain terrain of southern Sahara.

"We are now at the heart of the conflict [in protracted fighting in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains]," Le Drian said.

More than 4,000-strong French forces are in Mali, and according to Le Drian there would be no talk about a quick withdrawal while the mountain fighting rages on.

Le Drian said the fighting against Islamic extremists in the Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains has been going on for days, and so far, 23 soldiers from neighboring Chad had lost their lives.

Despite the ongoing combat, humanitarian observers say northern Mali is stabilising but needs help re-opening schools, markets and health clinics.

Ag Ghali's jihadists conquered much of northern Mali after a military coup in Mali's capital, aided by al-Qaeda's North Africa wing.

Ag Ghali imposed strict Shariah law in Timbuktu, torturing and executing culprits. Thousands were forced to flee.

The United Nations and the US State Department have designated Iyad Ag Ghali, head of the Islamic group Ansar Dine, a global terrorist.

Ag Ghali's assets in the US have been blocked and he is prohibited from doing business with Americans.

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