aris (AFP) – French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Saturday told West African states they would have to quickly take over from France on the frontline of a battle with Islamist militants in Mali.
“France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly, otherwise there would have been no more Mali,” Fabius said on his arrival in Abidjan for talks with leaders of West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc.
“But it is well understood that it is the Africans that must pick up the baton.”
Fabius, who made his comments to France’s RTL radio, is attending the ECOWAS summit in a bid to accelerate the deployment of a force of more than 3,000 troops that the regional grouping has promised to send to Mali under the auspices of the United Nations.
France has already sent 1,400 troops to shore up the beleaguered Malian army and is planning to increase its presence to a 2,500-strong force.
Fabius said the African force would be ready in weeks.
He added: “The objective of the extraordinary ECOWAS summit is to organise the force and ensure they can get there very quickly — some have already arrived — and start the reconquest of Mali.”
Fabius was travelling with senior defence officials and said he would be seeking to see how France could help with certain logistical problems, notably the transport of African troops into Mali and over the vast distances within the country.