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U.N. Security Council to discuss Mali as France steps up fight against insurgents

Published: January 14, 2013 | 8:32 am
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Bamako, Mali (CNN) — The U.N. Security Council will discuss the conflict in Mali on Monday as a military offensive to wrest Islamic militants’ control over part of the country rages on.
The meeting comes as more world bodies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, consider more support for the Malian government as it fights insurgents controlling the north.
France has taken the international lead in assisting Mali, a former French colony.
On Sunday, French military strikes targeted Islamist rebels, with both sides of the fight saying they were determined to win.
French fighter jets bombed rebel training camps and other targets, France’s defense ministry said.
“France’s goal is to lead a relentless struggle against terrorist groups, preventing any new offensive of these groups to the south of Mali,” the ministry said in a statement.
France has several hundred ground troops in Mali, where they may soon be joined by hundreds of troops from nearby African nations.
Islamist rebels in Mali acknowledged Sunday they suffered heavy losses in fights with the country’s military and French troops — but said it wouldn’t stop them.
“This is a holy war. The deaths are normal,” Sanda Ould Boumama, spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked rebel group Ansar Dine, said.
“Our fighters are prepared to die for our cause.”
One of Ansar Dine’s lieutenants, Iyad Ag Ghaly, was killed in the fight over the central town of Konna, security sources said.
Who is Ansar Dine?
Insurgents took the town Thursday but retreated the next day after a combined air and ground assault. Konna has been the de facto line of government control.
“The war has only started,” Boumama said. “We expect more casualties.”
He accused the French military of attacking Malians.
“Now the world can see that it’s the French who are the real terrorists,” he said.
But French and Malian military officials say the assaults are against rebel strongholds, not civilians.
Bodies lay on a road between the town and Islamist base, said Vieux Dada, a teacher in Gao.
“I believe they were Islamist fighters who tried to flee,” he said.
Mali’s military has suffered heavy losses in previous clashes, including 11 soldiers killed and about 60 wounded in the battle for Konna, according to a government statement read on state TV.
Additionally, a French helicopter pilot died while taking part Friday afternoon in an aerial operation targeting a terrorist group moving on the town of Mopti, near Konna, Le Drian said.
What’s behind the instability in Mali
A French colony until 1960, Mali had military rulers for decades until its first democratic elections in 1992. It remained stable politically until March, when a group of soldiers toppled the government, saying it had not provided adequate support for them to fight ethnic Tuareg rebels in the country’s largely desert north.
Tuareg rebels, who’d sought independence for decades, took advantage of the power vacuum and seized swaths of land. A power struggle then erupted in the north between the Tuaregs and local al Qaeda-linked radicals, who wound up in control of a large area as the Tuaregs retreated.
The United Nations says amputations, floggings and public executions — like the July stoning of a couple who had reportedly had an affair — became common in areas controlled by radical Islamists. They applied a strict interpretation of Sharia law in banning music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and damaged Timbuktu’s historic tombs and shrines.
Already, the armed groups’ activity and a pervasive drought have displaced hundreds of thousands of Malians.
And the Islamists’ movement southward has raised concerns among leaders in West Africa and elsewhere, some of them calling for swift and decisive military intervention in support of Mali’s government, based in Bamako.
The U.N. Security Council last month authorized a one-year military peacekeeping mission in the country. Members of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, pledged thousands of troops, and the Security Council has urged other nations to contribute forces as well.
British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to “provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly to Mali,” but no British personnel in a combat role, a Downing Street spokesman said.
The U.S. military is weighing options, including logistical support and intelligence sharing with France, a U.S. defense official said Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions had been made.
“This is a serious issue, and … the United States is committed to going after terrorists wherever they may be in order to protect American interests, but also those of our partners and allies around the world,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said last week.

CNN

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