François Hollande reports on Mali intervention
Mali/Poland – Statements made by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, during his joint press briefing with Mr Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland (excerpts)
Paris, 28 January 2013
THE PRESIDENT – I want to thank the Polish Prime Minister, who confirmed to me what I already knew: Poland fully supports what we’re doing on the international community’s behalf. She will have to take a number of decisions in the next few days to give even greater concrete substance to this support for the international force and for the idea we have of restoring Mali’s territorial integrity as swiftly as possible.
Once again, I’d like to pay tribute to the good level of cooperation between France and Poland and the excellent personal relationship Donald and I have. (...)
Q. – Reports of the military operation give the impression that the French army recaptured Gao and the outskirts of Timbuktu with little resistance. Did the French army really find itself up against fighters? What kind of fighting did she engage in? My second question, if I may: what’s its mission now? Is it to go beyond Timbuktu into northern Mali? And, beyond that, to capture – as you said a fortnight ago – the leaders of the terrorist groups in order to – in your words – “destroy” them? How long is all this going to last?
THE MINISTER – First of all, I want to pay tribute to the French soldiers’ courage and effectiveness in this operation in Mali. In the space of a few days, they’ve been able to halt the terrorist offensives, inflict serious losses by air and recapture with the Malian army the main cities – notably Gao and Timbuktu –, which wasn’t easy. These were extremely tough manoeuvres which were supposed not only to defeat the terrorists but also protect civilians. I gave the instruction for everything to be done with the Malian authorities and the African armed forces. This was scrupulously adhered to.
So our intervention was not only decisive in stopping the terrorists, it has also allowed the whole of Africa to show solidarity, through what’s called Afisma [African-led International Support Mission to Mali], and civilians to be protected from all acts of violence. The best proof of this is provided by the television channels showing images of our soldiers and the Malian army being jubilantly welcomed as they liberate towns and cities.
We’re also ensuring that the African contingents can now be deployed to take over from the Malian army and the French army when we have made the territory safe enough.
What have we got to do? We’ve halted the terrorist offensive. We’re carrying out the operation to recapture towns and cities with the Malian army and the African forces. On the other hand, northern Mali is still under the terrorists’ control. So it’s the Africans, as I’ve said, who will ensure Mali is allowed to regain her territorial integrity.
International support/African role
I want to pay tribute to all the assistance, all the support the Polish Prime Minister is giving us again today. There are all kinds of assistance: training, humanitarian assistance, material assistance, military assistance and especially training and organization of the Malian forces.
France doesn’t intend to remain in Mali; she undertook this operation only at the Malian President’s express request and in the framework of the United Nations Charter. On the other hand, we’re duty-bound to ensure that we can enable the African forces to give Mali lasting stability, beyond even the territorial integrity which must be effectively secured. Finally, I shall continue to have our hostages in my thoughts and do everything to secure their release.
Q. – For the moment we’re talking about vague things: training, logistical assistance etc. What exactly does France need in Mali?
THE PRESIDENT – What does France need? She needs political support; that’s been provided abundantly from the outset. She needs African forces deployed on the ground; that’s been done. She needs Europe to organize and train the Malian army. The Africans themselves and Mali need financial support: that will be the focus of the donors’ conference to be held in Addis Ababa tomorrow. And finally we need time, so that the Africans can give Mali stability. I’m confident the international community will agree to our continuing the operations. (…)
Q. – Are the French soldiers going to pursue the jihadists right into the mountains? When will you consider the French forces’ mission accomplished?
THE PRESIDENT – First of all, I want to return to what the Polish Prime Minister was saying. We’ve had the support of all our partners, with different levels of involvement. But our British and American allies have lent us planes for transport and refuelling. All this has contributed to the success of the operations, because we’re currently winning the battle. When I say “we” I mean the Malian army, I mean the Africans supported by the French.
I’m getting to your question. We’re there to provide support. We were led to play an important role in this operation because it was a matter of urgency, because it was necessary, because there was a danger, because there was a threat. Now the Africans can take up the baton, and it’s they who will be going to the northern region. We know it’s the most difficult part, because the terrorists are hidden there and can still conduct operations that are extremely dangerous for the neighbouring countries and Mali.
Then, once the territorial integrity is restored, the French will be there only to organize and train. Our contingent will be deployed in a different way: i.e. just as we carried out a rapid surge, so we’ll return to the home bases.
We must also do everything to ensure that Mali’s legitimate authorities can embark on an even more advanced democratization process, with the organization of elections. That is Mali’s responsibility, and we’re seeking to ensure that they – the government and the President – can organize those elections as quickly as possible, which means a return to territorial integrity./.