Situation in Mali

Statement by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, following the select defence council

(Paris, 12/01/2013)

France - at the request of the President of Mali and in compliance with the Charter of the United Nations - has committed herself to supporting the Malian army in the face of the terrorist aggression threatening the whole of West Africa.

Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, it’s already been halted and heavy losses have been inflicted on our adversaries.

But our mission is not complete.

Let me remind you that it consists in preparing the deployment of an African intervention force to enable Mali to regain her territorial integrity, in line with the Security Council resolutions.

Today I’ve again given full instructions to ensure the resources used by France are strictly confined to this goal.

Moreover, I’ve taken steps to strengthen the French military operation in Bamako to protect our citizens.

I’d like to pay tribute to our armed forces. One of our pilots died in the first hours of the confrontation. I salute his memory.

Let me remind you that France has no special interest in this operation other than to protect a friendly country, and no goal other than to fight terrorism. That’s why her action is supported by the whole international community and welcomed by all the African countries.

On another front, Somalia, I took the decision several days ago for an action to be carried out to free one of our agents, who had been held for more than three and a half years in gruelling conditions. The operation was not successful, despite the sacrifice of two of our soldiers and most probably the hostage’s murder.

I share the families’ grief and offer them the nation’s condolences. But this operation confirms France’s determination not to give in to the terrorists’ blackmail.

In the coming days our country will continue its intervention in Mali. I said it would last as long as necessary, but I have every confidence in our forces’ effectiveness and in the success of the mission we are conducting on the international community’s behalf.

The fight against terrorism also requires us to take every necessary precaution here in France. So I’ve asked Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to step up the Vigipirate Plan (1) to place our public buildings and transport infrastructure under surveillance. He will ensure that these instructions are carried out as soon as possible.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the political consensus which has formed around France’s engagement, which will be discussed in Parliament next week. In these circumstances, the rallying together of the French is an additional strength for the success of our action. Thank you./.

(1) Under the Vigipirate Plan, the security forces seek to avert threats and take preventive counter-terrorism measures.

Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (January 14, 2013)


THE MINISTER – I would like to provide an update on the diplomatic situation relating to the military operation in Mali. First of all, I would like to remind you of the objectives of this intervention, which we initiated at the request of the Malian authorities in order to respond to an emergency.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to reaffirm the three objectives, and I want to confirm them to you. The first is to stop the southward offensive by the armed terrorist groups who were threatening the whole of Mali and particularly the capital, Bamako. This operation is under way and is going satisfactorily. The second objective is to prevent the collapse of Mali. This is the essential precondition for restoring Mali’s territorial integrity. The third objective is to allow the implementation of the international resolutions, whether those of the United Nations, the African Union, ECOWAS or the EU. This is of course our main objective. Regarding the United Nations, we have to bear in mind that three components must be addressed: the security component, obviously, the political component and the development component.


I want to stress that this intervention falls strictly within international law. It responds to a formal request by the Malian President and is being conducted in accordance with the UN Charter, in compliance with UNSCRs 2056, 2071 and 2085. The framework is therefore the UN, Mali is making the request, and our partners are the Africans and the international community. Obviously, we don’t intend to act alone. We have – and I would like to highlight this – almost unanimous international political support. We’ve acted in a fully transparent manner; we’ve informed all our partners. Yesterday, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, spoke to me at length on the telephone to confirm to me – and I quote – that we have the United Nations’ full support.


I have personally been in contact with many of my counterparts – I will mention several of them: a few moments ago, Mrs Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Mr Westerwelle, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Mr Hague, British Foreign Secretary, Mr Terzi, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Mr Timmermans, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, and Mr Søvndal, Denmark’s Foreign Minister. I spoke to Senegal’s President Macky Sall, to my Algerian counterpart, Mr Medelci, whom I will contact again in a few moments, to Dr Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and to Ms Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s Foreign Minister. They all confirmed their country’s support to me.

This morning, I had a meeting [in Paris] with Mr Coulibaly, Mali’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who came to see me to update me on the situation on behalf of President Traoré and Prime Minister Sissoko, and asked me to pass on a letter to President Hollande from the Malian President, warmly and sincerely thanking the French people on behalf of the Malian people. Our international partners’ support also includes operational support. Several countries are engaged alongside us – the United Kingdom is providing strategic and tactical airlift; Germany is looking at logistical, humanitarian and medical assistance; Belgium is providing us with means of transport, as is Denmark; the United States is providing support in the areas of transport, communications and intelligence. Preparations are being stepped up for the deployment of a West African force. Nigeria is due to provide 600 troops. Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Senegal have announced that they will each send contingents of around 500 troops and Benin 300. Chad should also provide a sizeable contingent; further support has also been announced. This international mobilization is essential because France cannot remain alone alongside Mali. The decisions taken before Christmas by the UN, the African Union, ECOWAS and the EU pave the way for an international operation, primarily an African operation.


We’re currently working on the swift implementation of these decisions. We’re working in close cooperation with the UN. A new Security Council meeting devoted to Mali is taking place at our request this very afternoon in New York. Our goal is to deploy, as swiftly as possible, what’s being called the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, or AFISMA. The military command is already being deployed to Bamako. A conference will take place tomorrow over there in order to plan troop deployment. A donors’ conference will take place in Addis Ababa at the end of January on the sidelines of the African Union summit.

I have just spoken to Mrs Ashton, who confirmed that an exceptional meeting of the Council of EU foreign ministers would take place this week to examine the situation in Mali. We will take decisions at the meeting allowing us to accelerate the deployment of the EU training and advisory mission to support the Malian army. We’ll also have to examine how our European partners can contribute to the deployment of AFISMA.


I want to add that obviously everything is being done to ensure the safety of the French citizens on the ground in Mali and throughout the region. Security arrangements have been stepped up, notably by sending GIGN [elite gendarmerie unit] gendarmes. The French lycée in Bamako is closed this week so that a detailed security assessment can be carried out and to avoid as far as possible any risks being taken. Regarding the hostages, everyone understands the families’ concern, which is legitimate. The head of the crisis centre, Mr Didier Le Bret, is in constant contact with these families. I myself have just received hostage Gilberto Rodrigues Leal’s family, to whom I reaffirmed France’s determination.

Everything is being done to limit the risks but we will not protect the hostages by allowing Mali to become a haven for terrorists. Indeed, it’s important to remember that it’s these very groups that are holding our hostages and could have taken complete control of Mali if we hadn’t intervened.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the international background as I speak. By intervening in Mali, France is shouldering her international responsibilities and fulfilling her international obligations. Vital interests were at stake for us, for Africa, for Europe and for the entire international community and we therefore had to take action. The urgency of the situation meant that we had to act swiftly, but our European and African partners and our partners at the UN are now demonstrating that they are also ready to step forward.

Q. – A jihadist column has taken the town of Diabaly, in the west of the country; does this worry you?

THE MINISTER – I heard these reports through my colleague the Minister of Defence, who confirmed to me what you’ve just told me. It’s about being very active and vigilant on the west side and at the same time active and vigilant on the east side. Our forces have received instructions to deal with this.


Q. – On Somalia, there have been some particularly striking tweets this afternoon. What’s your comment on these tweets of the photos published by al-Shabaab in Somalia?

THE MINISTER – You’ve obviously heard about this tragic outcome, which has cost the lives of our nationals. We warned against any exploitation of the issue. I did so yesterday, as did my friend and colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian. We condemn the exploitation of what must clearly be called murders.


Q. – There are reports that the head of Ansar Dine has been wounded in a raid by French strikes; can you confirm this to us?

THE MINISTER – There are a lot of reports, but before confirming all this, checks are necessary. They’re currently under way.

Q. – Does France know where the hostages are being held, and if so is anything being done to avoid them being put at risk through French bombardments?

THE MINISTER – As you know, since the outset we’ve adopted a strategy of maximum action while remaining as discreet as possible, because any information given could be used by the kidnappers against the hostages. So you’ll allow me to remain very discreet on these points.


Q. – Do you hope Algerian support will go beyond mere authorization for flying over the territory? Do you have any assurances on this? Thank you.

THE MINISTER – Prime Minister Sissoko was on a visit to Algeria. I think he’s now due to return to his country. I myself intend to have a meeting with the Algerian authorities late in the afternoon, after leaving you. We’ll take stock. But I had the opportunity to say that the Algerian authorities – who, like us, are obviously worried about what’s happening on their doorstep, after having been very hard hit by terrorism for years themselves – appreciate the seriousness of all this. The Algerian authorities authorized our planes to fly over their country. We are, and will remain, in close contact with them.


Q. – (on the UK’s support)

THE MINISTER – Britain immediately provided us with her support. Mr David Cameron made this clear to the French President. William Hague called me personally, and we’re seeing once again that when the going gets tough, the British stand alongside us. Other nations do too, of course. So we’ve got a meeting, to be convened by Mrs Ashton, who told me earlier that she was envisaging it this week, in two or three days’ time. Along with all our European colleagues, we’ll take stock of the situation and most probably decide to confirm and accelerate what Europe has pledged in terms of training. And individual gestures will also be made by many countries, of course, including Britain, Belgium, Denmark and others. There’s no doubt that the Europeans will stand alongside the Malians and alongside us, because Mali and Africa will clearly be at stake, but also Europe. Indeed, I think everyone’s understood that what explains the international support and the people’s support is that if terrorism develops, the whole of Africa is targeted and, as an indirect consequence, Europe.


Q. – I’d like to come back to the Islamists’ capture of the town of Diabaly. Were you expecting it, and what are the consequences on the ground of that town’s capture, please?

THE MINISTER – On the strictly military aspect, I’d rather refer you to my defence colleague.

Q. – On the deployment of African forces, do you think this deployment of combat troops is a matter of hours, days or weeks? Secondly, on the instructions for French companies in Mali – I’m thinking of the public buildings and works sector – are they continuing to work or have their sites been closed, and are you possibly repatriating…

THE MINISTER – On the first point, I’ve told you that the Chief of Staff is now at work on the ground, that pledges of African troop contingents are being gathered and that the military and civilian authorities are quite obviously going to do everything to ensure those troops are engaged very quickly, as quickly as possible of course.

On the second question, about companies – which the Malians are handling – there are no problems. Obviously in areas in difficulty or still under terrorist control, there won’t be any activity, but there wasn’t any already.

Q. – Even so, can you give us more precise information about the timeframe for the African forces’ deployment in Mali? You’re saying “as quickly as possible”, but what does that mean? Does it mean France is going to be alone for the operations all this week or are you expecting deployments this week? Are we talking days, weeks or months?

THE MINISTER – I can simply say to you: the quicker, obviously, the better. There are questions about transport, but thanks in particular to the support a number of countries are giving us, this transport is being put in place. Once again, my defence colleague in charge of these questions will be perhaps more precise than me, but the political objective is clear: to act as swiftly as possible.


Q. – On Algeria, do you think she supports the operation and France’s policy in Mali? Is it full, wholehearted support?

THE MINISTER – I’m not going to speak for our Algerian friends. They’ll say what they wish to say. We are, have been and will remain in close contact with them. When we asked permission for aircraft to fly over their territory, we were granted it immediately.

Q. – I’d like to know how the meeting went with your Malian counterpart – he came to express thanks, of course, but perhaps he also had a few specific requests?

THE MINISTER – We reviewed the situation, of course, because he represents the Malian government. We talked about the situation on the ground and the psychological situation. We also reviewed the questions you’ve asked, which are legitimate, concerning the African troops’ contribution, the donors’ conference, but also the need today to carry out a security operation. The political aspects and issues linked to development in the near future also still need to be dealt with. We quite obviously tackled the whole subject and we’re going to see each other again extremely soon because it’s very possible he’ll be joining us for the meeting which will take place in Europe between the foreign ministers.

Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs - excerpts - (Paris, 11/01/2013)

THE MINISTER - Earlier on, President Hollande asked me and the Prime Minister to give you some details of the context in which his decision was taken. For several months now we’ve been drawing the whole world’s attention to the gravity of the situation in Mali. As you know, terrorist and criminal groups have settled in northern Mali which have not only jeopardized Mali’s integrity but which also - given the powerful weapons they have, the financial resources, their ideology and their frightening practices - are threatening Mali, the neighbouring countries, Africa as a whole, and Europe. These are terrorist and criminal groups.

That’s why the United Nations Security Council has taken a number of decisions, the latest being in December. That resolution rightly provided for the deployment of a force called AFISMA, the African-led International Support Mission to Mali. A number of decisions are enabling the terrorists to be fought and Mali to regain her integrity and resume her development.

Concurrently, Europe has taken decisions to help build, rebuild the Malian army. Mali’s neighbours in what is called ECOWAS have pledged to provide contingents. That was the situation a few weeks ago.

But for the past few days, the situation has unfortunately deteriorated very seriously and - taking advantage of the time delay between international decisions being taken and being implemented - the terrorist and criminal groups in northern Mali have decided to move southwards. Their goal is obviously to control the whole of Mali in order to establish a terrorist state there.

That’s why the Malian authorities referred the matter to both the United Nations Security Council and France, to ask them to intervene as a matter of urgency. The Security Council met yesterday and, in a statement adopted unanimously, deemed that the threat was extremely serious and that it was necessary to react. The matter was referred to it by the Malian authorities. A request was also made to France for air and military support.


Given this urgent situation, and on the basis of international law, President Hollande, the Head of State and head of the armed forces, took the decision to take up Mali’s request and the international community’s request. That’s the basis of the decision he’s announced today, which has started being implemented on the ground this very afternoon, through our support for the Malian troops.

That’s where things stand as I speak. I’d like to add two comments: this decision falls within international law and was dictated by the change in the situation brought about by the emergency. It’s been the subject of international consultation.

Yesterday and today, a whole range of authorities were consulted. Among others, I quite obviously want to mention constant contact with Mali, who made the request; with the leaders of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, including the Chairman, President Ouattara; with the African Union, including the Chairperson, President Boni Yayi, and Dr Zuma, Chairperson of the [African Union] Commission. I also spoke to our Algerian friends yesterday, our Nigerian friends, most of the European countries and their leaders, particularly Mrs Ashton and my colleagues from the United Kingdom and Germany, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and, quite obviously, the whole of the Security Council.

It’s a serious decision but one which was rendered absolutely necessary by the situation: the terrorists must be stopped from breaking through, otherwise the whole of Mali will fall into their hands, threatening the whole of Africa and Europe itself.

Secondly, as President Hollande indicated, there’s of course a need for full national consultation on this subject. This is why the Prime Minister - along with the Minister of Defence and me - is holding a meeting on Monday with all the senior political figures who have to be consulted. Parliament will of course be able to hear us, as it intends to do. The Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee thought that maybe on Wednesday, or another day at Parliament’s discretion, we could have all the necessary consultations.

I took the initiative, before the end of the evening, for the hostages’ families obviously to be informed. But it must be clearly understood, in this very difficult situation, that the hostages’ kidnappers are the same people who want to move into the south to continue their sinister work.

Tomorrow, the Defence Minister will be at your disposal to talk and give an update on the specifically military aspect of this operation. (…)

Q. - How long will this operation last?

THE MINISTER - As President Hollande said in his speech, it must quite obviously last as long as necessary to ensure we can achieve our goals - namely, halting the criminal terrorists’ advance southwards and enabling Mali to return to normal, of course, because only in this way will we be able to implement what the international community has decided.

Let me remind you there are three aspects: the need for political dialogue, which is nevertheless very difficult to engage in if 90% of Mali’s territory has been seized by the terrorists; a development aspect, because Mali is a very poor country that must be helped; and also a security aspect, namely the rebuilding of the Malian army, trained by Europe, and the ability to gradually regain the ground the terrorists have captured in recent months. But it’s also about blocking the criminal terrorists’ progress southwards, and that will take the necessary time. (…)

Q. - Can you confirm to us that Nigerian and Senegalese units are alongside the French, precisely to fight those terrorists?

THE MINISTER - No, the Malian troops are there; they asked for France’s support. ECOWAS too and the African Union asked for this support, but currently it’s the French who are supporting the Malian troops. (…)


Q. - What instructions are you giving French nationals in Mali?

THE MINISTER - There are around 6,000 nationals, particularly in the south in Bamako. Measures have been taken to make Bamako secure. Now, I think it’s reasonable to say that anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to be there is welcome to return, and let me point out that regular flights are operating. I’d also ask them to contact the Embassy to ensure the security instructions given are widely publicized and properly followed.


Q. - I’d like to know if you’ve had any discussions with the American Department of State or the White House on this issue; and if so, what did you say to each other?

THE MINISTER - The answer is yes. Yesterday, before the Security Council’s statement was made - at the Security Council, obviously - there were representatives of the United States of America, and the necessary contacts took place.

Likewise - although it happens to have been planned this way - I had a meeting on this and various other subjects this very morning with my colleague the Russian Foreign Minister.


Q. - Can you explain to us in concrete terms the legitimacy of this French intervention at this precise time?

THE MINISTER - At political level, the legitimacy is clear: when terrorist and criminal groups threaten the very existence of a friendly country and also threaten a community of French people - as I’ve said, 6,000 people - there’s political legitimacy in the broad sense, which is clear.

But if you want to go into legal considerations - and we’re entirely free to do so - there are, firstly, the appeal and the request made by Mali’s legitimate government, so here this is a case of legitimate self-defence; and secondly, all the United Nations resolutions, which not only allow but require those countries capable of doing so to support the fight against the terrorists in this matter.

Finally, to this legitimacy, drawn from Article 51 - to the legitimacy drawn from the United Nations resolutions - I’d like to add, if it were needed, two other forms of legitimacy: firstly the request by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, and [secondly] the position taken by the African Union, which is the subject of a press communiqué by Dr Zuma, who asked everyone to provide, in line with the relevant decisions by the Peace and Security Council, the required support at logistical and financial level and in terms of strengthening the capabilities of the Malian defence and security forces. So nobody is going to challenge this legitimacy. (…)

Q. - Just to be sure I’ve understood properly: like the President, you said this mission would last as long as necessary…

THE MINISTER - As long as necessary.

Q. - Is the aim of the mission to gradually regain the ground that was taken by the terrorists, as you say, or rather to block their progress southwards?

THE MINISTER - No, I’ve been as precise as I can be. I’ve said our aims are to halt the terrorists and criminals’ progress southwards, ensure Mali’s integrity and defend French nationals.


Q. - You’ve talked about the hostages; you said you’d informed the families…

THE MINISTER - We’re in the process of informing the families, yes, of course…

Q. - Do you now fear for their lives? Do you think this decision by France will change anything, and is it a risk you’re consciously taking?

THE MINISTER - As you know, for many months the hostages - most of them - have been in an extremely dangerous situation. I’ve met most of the families in the course of recent weeks. I gave them the information we had, and I got an idea of just how brave and responsible they are. I told them what our intentions are. I didn’t tell them a Malian intervention supported by the French will take place today, because - as I’ve told you, and this is the essential thing you have to remember - it’s the action, the initiative taken by terrorist and criminal groups to move southwards which obviously requires both an appeal from the Malians and the support of the international community and the French. It’s this new situation.

You must bear in mind that we’re doing and will do everything to save our hostages. You must also bear in mind that it’s the same groups - because all this is bound up together - who are both the hostage-takers and the terrorist groups heading southwards. Now, people will say, «No, it’s such-and-such a group», etc. But it’s all bound up. By preventing the southward progress of these groups and responding to them extremely firmly, we think we’re serving the same cause as when we want to free the hostages, because ultimately it’s the same groups.


Q. - Would you accept the expression «France, Mali’s policeman»?


Q. - Can you tell us why? Moreover, what do you think are the risks of France getting a little bit bogged down in Mali, as sometimes happens when you intervene in foreign, faraway countries where you can find yourself for longer than anticipated?

THE MINISTER - I don’t think the term «policeman», or others, is pertinent. I’ve tried explaining to you - more or less correctly, I hope - that we intervened in support of the Malian forces because the international community has been asking for this and because Mali’s very existence as a democratic country is at stake, and the protection of our nationals requires it. When «policeman» was talked about, I think people had in mind perhaps untimely interventions. This one obviously isn’t.

You also ask the question: how long will it last and doesn’t it risk dragging on? I answered: the shortest time possible but long enough to see the job - a formidable one - through, and there’s absolutely no question of the French becoming established over there permanently - absolutely not, that’s not the goal. But when a state risks being swallowed up and terrorism for the first time risks establishing itself in an African state and controlling it and there are several thousand French nationals, the lives of several thousand French nationals at stake, then the issue isn’t at all about getting bogged down - that won’t happen - it’s about reaching out to save people who are dying.

Q. - Will this operation end when you have halted the terrorist groups’ advance southwards or when the Malian forces assisted by France, assisted by the African forces, have liberated the north…?

THE MINISTER - I’ve understood the question perfectly well. The aim of this operation is to stop the terrorist forces’ advance southwards. Afterwards, there’s the plan adopted by the international community, which is at once a political, development and security plan. But it’s necessary, in order for it to be applied - and as provided for at the outset under this plan, the French are only the facilitators - it is up to the Africans themselves to take things in hand. We’re only providing support and as such have no intention at all of being in the front line: that isn’t our mission at all. But for the international community to be able to adopt this plan, for it to come into being, Mali must continue to exist and the terrorists mustn’t take over the whole of Mali. There you are. Thank you very much./.

Emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (Q&A - Excerpt from the daily press briefing - January 11, 2013)

Q. – Malian President Dioncounda Traoré wrote to President François Hollande yesterday to ask him for military assistance from France. The French Ambassador to the UN promised a response from France today. What is France’s response?

A : The situation is extremely serious. The continuity of the Malian state and the protection of civilians are now at stake.

We’re extremely worried about this blatant aggression, which is a real, direct and immediate threat to peace and regional and international security.

This is why yesterday evening France called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council unanimously expressed its deep concern and stressed the need for the swift deployment of the African force and the European mission.

As President Hollande has just said, France will respond, alongside her African partners, to the Malian authorities’ request. She will do this strictly in the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and will be ready to stop the terrorist offensive, were it to continue.

For the moment, the situation in Bamako is calm. All steps have been taken to protect the French community in Mali. We ask our compatriots to remain vigilant and in contact with our embassy.

Last modified on 15/01/2013

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