French foreign minister concludes Africa tour
By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 31/07/12
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius wrapped up a tour of the Sahel on Saturday (July 28th) with a visit to Chad.
The Africa trip - Fabius' first since taking office last May- focused on the fallout from the Mali conflict.
His tour, which included visits to Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, came at a time when the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are considering military action to oust radical Islamist groups from the north of Mali.
During his stopover in Senegal, the French official promised his country would serve as a "facilitator" should African states decide to intervene in Mali.
"If these terrorists do not want to practice something other than terrorism, we must treat it securely. But it must be done by Africans," Fabius said, adding that it was "not easy because one has to find adequate forces in Mali and neighbouring countries".
However, the French foreign minister said that "the Malian government is required to restore democratic legitimacy as soon as possible and to form a national unity government to consolidate stability in the south before the north."
In Chad, the final leg of his tour, Fabius discussed co-operation between France and African countries to counter terrorism in Sahel, and said that Chadian President Idriss Déby's diagnosis of the security situation in northern Mali "was accurate and sharp when he said that the spread of terrorism would pose a threat to all Sahel countries", Journal Du Mali reported.
For his part, Déby insisted on international support for any military action, saying Africa did not have the necessary forces to deal with the situation.
Meanwhile, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said the French official's visit wouldn't change their position on the Mali crisis.
"We welcome any negotiated solution for the crisis whether under a French or African initiative," Atai Ag Mohamed, a MNLA communications representative in Timbuktu, told Magharebia. "We went to Ouagadougou to take part in negotiations and show our good intentions."
"We're ready to counter terrorism in co-ordination with the African countries, and we're ready to present our experience and mobilise our men in the field," he added. "However, this will be subject to taking our demands into consideration. If we're ignored, I think that the crisis will aggravate, a solution will be more difficult and the terrorists will be stronger."
However, some analysts believe that Fabius' tour didn't achieve the results Africans were looking for in terms of security commitments.
"This time, France won't come to the field. And in order to provide support, the Economic Community of West African States must take carefully-planned steps," security and defence researcher Abdallah Ould al-Moustapha Ould al-Nahah said.
"What makes the situation even more complex is that Africans don't have knowledge of northern Mali, its tough terrain, desert and scorching heat, things that the Mauritanian army is familiar with and is trained more than any other army in the region," the analyst said. "However, Mauritania is not an ECOWAS member and may not be ready, given its current conditions, to engage in war against an entity with which the conflict may not be resolved quickly."
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