African forces yesterday began moving towards Mali’s centre, the French foreign minister said, as pressure grew on Malian troops over summary killings and rights abuses in a French-led assault on Al Qaeda-linked groups.
The first troops from a UN-mandated African force aimed at replacing the French mission had “already started to move towards central towns,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris, adding that the force had deployed “far quicker than envisaged.”
He said 1,000 troops from West African countries and Chad had already arrived in Mali, which has been split in two since April.
“The African force is deploying much faster than expected,” Fabius said. “Obviously that poses a number of logistical difficulties but I have to say that I have seen a very big effort by our African friends.”
A Malian defence official said that 160 soldiers from Burkina Faso had arrived in Markala, 270 kilometres (170 miles) north of the capital Bamako, to “take up the baton from the French” guarding a strategic bridge on the Niger river.
The UN has authorised the deployment of a 3,300-strong force under the auspices of 15-nation West African grouping ECOWAS.
But the involvement of Chad, which has committed up to 2,000 troops, means the force could now be much bigger. (AFP)