Photograph of a truck carrying members of the Islamist Ansar Dine of northern Mali. There is a black flag symbolizing their Islamic orientation flying overhead on the vehicle., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
France says its journalists "coldly assassinated" in Mali
By John Irish and Adama Diarra
PARIS/BAMAKO (Reuters) - France said on Sunday two French journalists found dead in the northern Mali region of Kidal had been "coldly assassinated" by militants and vowed to step up security measures in the area.
Radio journalists Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were abducted after interviewing a member of the MNLA Tuareg separatist group in northern Mali.
Their bodies were found on Saturday by a French patrol 12 km (8 miles) outside Kidal, the birthplace of a Tuareg uprising last year that plunged Mali into chaos, leading to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of the country by militants linked to al Qaeda.
Adama Kamissoko, the governor of Kidal region, said French and Malian security officials were jointly investigating the attack, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put the blame firmly on militants operating in the region.
"The assassins are those that we are fighting, the terrorist groups that refuse democracy and elections," Fabius said, calling the killings "heinous and revolting".
Fabius said one of the journalists had been shot twice, and the other three times. He said French forces had tried to find the hostage takers, but to no avail.
Paris launched air strikes and sent thousands of soldiers into Mali at the start of the year to drive back al Qaeda-linked rebels it said could turn the West African country into a base for international attacks.
Islamists scattered during the French assault and a presidential election was held in July.
But the journalists' deaths follow a number of attacks elsewhere in northern Mali, underscoring the fragile gains in the vast desert zone.
Last month Malian and international forces launched a wide-scale operation to keep pressure on Islamist groups.
Although Malian, U.N. and French troops are stationed in Kidal, none are heavily deployed. The Malian army's contingent is generally symbolic and soldiers are confined to their base.
There are some 200 U.N. peacekeepers (MINUSMA)who are officially in control of security and France also has about 200 troops, though their operations in the region have focused on the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains to the north, which served for years as a hideout for militants.
GUNMEN ROAM KIDAL
"Security in the area and the surrounding areas will be increased," Fabius said after a specially convened cabinet meeting. He did not elaborate.
Mali government spokesman Mahamane Baby echoed those comments saying President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Hollande had agreed that the status quo could not remain during a telephone call late on Saturday.
"The two heads of state agreed that the situation in Kidal was unacceptable and that a change was necessary to ensure the security of all Malians and foreigners present there," he said.
According to the Ouagadougou agreement signed by Mali's government and rebel groups ahead of the July elections that aimed to pave the way for a peace deal across the country, rebel fighters were due to be confined to barracks before the new government launched a final round of peace talks.
However, MNLA fighters still operate in and around Kidal, much to the frustration of Bamako.
The journalists' deaths came just days after four French hostages kidnapped in Niger by al Qaeda's north African (AQIM) wing were released following secret talks with officials from the West African country. They had been held for three years.
Paris dismissed media reports the government had used public funds to pay a ransom of some $20 million.
Pierre Boilley, an Africa expert at the Centre for National Scientific Research (CNRS), said the attack was likely to have been carried out by groups linked to AQIM or those trying to undermine talks between the government and northern rebels.
"It could also have been vengeance. There are difficulties within AQIM. Some may have benefited from the hostages' ransom, and others may have been neglected so it's a possible hypothesis," he said.
(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Dakar; editing by Ralph Boulton)
Hollande holds crisis talks on French reporters' murder
By FRANCE 24 the 03/11/2013 - 11:11
French President François Hollande has held an emergency meeting on the shocking abduction and murder of RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in northern Mali on Saturday.
President François Hollande held an emergency meeting at the Elysée Palace on Sunday to discuss the shocking abduction and killing of two French radio journalists by armed men in northern Mali.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and senior officials from France’s Defence Ministry joined Hollande for talks aimed at shedding light on the double murder.
Veteran journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were reporting for FRANCE 24’s sister radio station, Radio France Internationale (RFI), in the northern Malian town of Kidal on Saturday when they were abducted by unknown assailants.
They were seized outside the home of a spokesman for the Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), whom they had come to interview.
The spokesman, Ambery Ag Rhissa, told FRANCE 24 and RFI he saw the journalists being bundled into a four wheel-drive vehicle by men in turbans, speaking the Tuareg language of Tamashek.
"This was the last time that the journalists were seen alive," said Marie-Christine Saragosse, CEO of France Media Monde, the parent company of RFI and FRANCE 24.
French prosecutors have opened a formal investigation into the journalists’ abduction and murder.
Hollande, who earlier expressed "his indignation at this despicable act", was expected to discuss the implications of Saturday’s events for French forces in Mali.
The French leader sent troops to the African country in January to oust Islamist rebels from the north.
Some 3,000 French troops are still deployed across the country, two thirds of which were supposed to pull out by February 2014.
That timetable may be changed in the wake of Saturday’s double murder, says FRANCE 24’s Julien Sauvaget, reporting from the Elysée Palace.
"The situation in northern Mali is still precarious, with less than half of the 12,500-strong UN peacekeeping force currently deployed – that is, not nearly enough to maintain security across the Malian territory,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Source URL: http://www.france24.com/en/20131103-hollande-holds-crisis-meeting-french-reporters-murder-mali
Netherlands to boost UN peacekeeping force in Mali
The Netherlands has announced that it will send 368 troops to Mali as part of a UN-led peacekeeping mission. The leader of Mali's 2012 coup has been summoned over human rights abuse allegations.
On Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that his government was sending the troops in an attempt to help restore stability to the North African country. The Dutch force will join an already existing UN mission in Mali.
The French military reduced its presence in Mali and handed control over to the UN this year following France's initial campaign to drive al Qaeda-linked militants out of Mali's restive northern region.
"We believe Dutch participation increases the chance of success of the UN mission," Rutte said.
In a letter to parliament, Foreign Minister Frans wrote that the Dutch force would include 220 troops for intelligence gathering, as well as four Apache combat helicopters.
In the Netherlands, deploying soldiers for UN peacekeeping missions is emotionally charged. In July 1995, Dutch soldiers were unable to prevent Bosnian Serb forces from killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia.
On Friday, Rutte said that the decision to deploy Dutch troops to Mali was a tough one, but "all lessons from previous missions have been learned."
A March 2012 coup in Mali created a power vacuum that allowed Tuareg separatist rebels to seize control of the country's north.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants later took over half of Mali's north and started moving south. The French military intervened on January 11, but remnants of the militant groups continue to operate in the country.
Malian coup leader summoned
On Friday, a Malian Justice Ministry official confirmed to the Associated Press news agency that the man who led last year's coup, General Amadou Haya Sanogo, had been summoned by the judiciary to address allegations of torture and murder.
Sanogo led the mutiny that began on March 21, 2012, and later declared himself in "total control" of the country.
He is accused of rounding up, torturing and murdering soldiers who attempted a countercoup against him.
The summons is not a warrant for his arrest, and it was unclear whether Sanogo would later be taken into custody. Sixteen other soldiers linked to the alleged crimes were also summoned.
Sanogo, who denies the crimes, agreed to make way for a transitional government earlier this year, but officially remained in power until new elections were held in July.
dr/ipj (Reuters, AP, AFP)