.Africa News Special Focus 

January 25 - 31, 2013


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PARIS (Xinhua) -- The photo released by French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows French armored vehicles making their way north of Bamako, in Mali. French ground forces were heading towards Mali’s northern region to help local authorities to retake the area from Islamist rebels, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. XINHUA PHOTO - ECPAD


West African military chiefs
meeting over Mali crisis

ECOWAS member states have started deploying forces
in Mali to support Malian and French forces who have
been involved in a counter-offensive against rebels


ABIDJAN (Xinhua) -- An emergency meeting of the chiefs of general staff from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is scheduled to take place on Saturday in Abidjan, to discuss the ongoing military operation in Mali against the Islamist rebels who have been occupying the Northern part of the country, an official source said on Friday.

A statement from the community’s member states indicated further on Friday that the meeting will be used to evaluate the progress of deployment of soldiers under the auspices of the International Support Mission for Mali (MISMA).

ECOWAS member states have started deploying their forces in Mali to support the Malian and French forces who have been involved in a counter-offensive against the rebels for the last two weeks.

The West African region has committed to send about 3,000 soldiers on the ground.

Cote d’Ivoire which is currently holding the chairmanship of ECOWAS, is expected to send a battalion of 500 soldiers.

Several other African countries which are not members of the sub-regional organization have promised to send their support, and they include countries like Chad which has committed to deploy 2, 000 soldiers


Mali government adopts
road-map for transition

BAMAKO (Xinhua) -- The Malian government has adopted the road-map for the transition during an extraordinary Cabinet meeting that was chaired by President Dioncounda Traore, an official source has said.

While speaking on Mali’s national television, the country’s Minister for Labor, Public Service and Relations with Institutions, Mamadou Namory Traore, said that majority of the stakeholders were consulted before the drafting of the road-map which is centered on the two main priorities of the transition that include capturing the occupied territories and organization of free and fair elections.

Traore said that Parliament will be summoned for an extraordinary session to debate and approve the document.

The West African nation has been ruled by a transitional government since a coup in March 2012. The Islamic rebel groups, taking the opportunity of chaotic situation following the coup, occupied the northern part of Mali.

Under the mandate of the United Nations, the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) has decided to send 3,300 troops to support the Mali government to retake the land occupied by the rebels.

France, the former colonial ruler of the country, quickly dispatched forces to fight against the rebels two weeks ago when a group of the rebel forces launched an offensive against the army. The coalition forces with the support from the regional nations have recovered several towns in the northern region.

Crisis in Mali having far-reaching impact
on rest of West Africa: UN envoy

UNITED NATIONS (Xinhua) -- The ongoing crisis in Mali is having far-reaching effects in West Africa and the Sahel, and the situation there illustrated the fragility of the region, a UN envoy said here Friday.

"As developments unfold in Mali, the risks for infiltration and destabilization are real in some of the countries bordering Mali, as illustrated by the efforts of neighboring countries to tighten security along the borders," the UN secretary-general’s special representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, said while briefing the UN Security Council.

Djinnit, who heads the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said the situation in Mali has heightened the overall terrorism threat in the subregion, adding that the international community must remain mindful of the limitations faced by Mali’s neighbors, and enhance support in the areas of border control and counter- terrorism.

The crisis in Mali broke out last January as fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels took place in northern Mali, which was seized by radical Islamists.

The renewed clashes in north Mali, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’etat in March have uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians.

According to the latest estimates by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 150,000 people have fled to neighboring Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, while an additional 230,000 have been internally displaced.

The conflict has strained resources and worsened the humanitarian situation in the Sahel, which was already precarious due to years of drought, piracy, and transnational organized crime. It also prompted the Malian government to request military assistance from France to stop the progression of extremist groups.

In addition, the Council last month authorized the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali, known as AFISMA, for an initial period of one year to assist the authorities in recovering rebel-held regions in the north and restoring the unity of the country.

Djinnit, who in recent months has traveled to Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire supporting mediation efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), stressed that the international community must simultaneously support both the political and military tracks to ensure a successful transition process.

"It will also be necessary to eventually pursue a broad reconciliation process that strengthens the foundations for national cohesion in Mali," Djinnit said.

"The recently deployed UN Team in Bamako will be fully available to support this process, and I will personally continue to support these efforts."

He also noted that beyond the crises in Mali and the Sahel, the region continues to be threatened by piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, disrupting maritime trade roots and economic progress in the region. Tensions along the borders between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, and transnational organized crime in Guinea-Bissau and Mali are also a source of concern.

UNOWA is engaging with governments as well as civil society organizations in the region and other partners to address these issues, Djinnit said, welcoming the progress made so far.

"The situation in West Africa remains at a crossroads. On the one hand, the leaders of the region have made significant progress towards the promotion and consolidation of peace, and are taking decisive efforts to address the pressing challenges to peace and security in the region," he said.

"On the other hand, the situation in Mali and in the Sahel, combined with other cross-cutting threats in the region, including drug trafficking and piracy, has the potential to undermine security in West Africa, while the root causes of instability in the region are yet to be fully addressed," he added.

The envoy stressed that continued attention and support of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to ECOWAS leaders and countries remains essential towards lasting peace, stability and development.


United States amd France pledge expanded
counter-terrorism in North Africa

WASHINGTON (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande pledged on Friday to expand efforts in fighting terrorism in North Africa.

In their phone conversation, the two leaders discussed shared security concerns including Mali, Algeria, Libya and Syria, the White House said.

"President Obama and President Hollande condemned last week’s terrorist act in Algeria and affirmed their mutual commitment to countering terrorism more broadly in North Africa," the White House said in a statement.

Al-Qaida-affiliated militants raided a gas complex near In Amenas in eastern Algeria on Jan. 16 and took hostage hundreds of Algerian and foreign workers to avenge Algeria’s support for French involvement in the conflict in neighboring Mali.

The Algerian troops launched a three-day rescue operation starting the next day. According to Algerian officials, a total of 37 hostages, including a French citizen, were killed during the operation and seven others are still missing.

On Mali, Obama expressed his support for France’s involvement in combating al-Qaida-affiliated militants and extremists running the northern part of the West Africa nation.

"The two leaders emphasized the need to rapidly establish the African-led International Support Mission in Mali," the White House said.

The Obama administration sent some 100 military trainers last week to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana—the nations that are poised to send their troops to Mali.

The U.S. military has begun airlifting French troops and equipment into Mali, as Washington is pushing as well for the restoration of a civilian government in the African nation following a coup in March last year.

On Libya, Obama and Hollande noted the importance of "sustained assistance" to the country as it is working to build effective security sector institutions.

They voiced "strong concern" about the humanitarian crisis affecting not just Syria but also neighboring countries, pledging anew to help achieve a political transition in the Arab country in the absence of President Bashar al-Assad, the White House said.


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