AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Friday 11 January 2013
Last update 12 January 2013 1:04 am
BAMAKO: France yesterday instructed its citizens to leave Mali following the launch of a government offensive against rebels in the north of the country.
The attack was aimed at stemming advances made by Al-Qaeda-linked radicals who this week triggered international alarm with a push south towards the capital, Bamako, a military officer told AFP.
“Our offensive has started,” the officer said on condition of anonymity. “The objective is to retake total control of the town of Konna and to proceed from there.”
He added that “military planes from friendly countries” were being used in the offensive while a Malian government official said the operation had the support of French and European armed forces.
“European military, including French, are present in Mali to repel any southward advance by rebels,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The offensive came a day after Mali’s government appealed to France, the former colonial power, and the United Nations for help in pushing back the rebels.
As well as capturing Konna, the rebel forces have moved about 1,200 militants to within 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) of Mopti, a strategically important town on the frontier between rebel-held and government-held territories.
French President Francois Hollande responded to Mali’s appeal yesterday by saying Paris was ready to help, under the auspices of the UN.
The UN Security Council has already given its blessing for a 3,000-strong African force to be sent to Mali but it will not be ready to deploy before September at the earliest.
That has put pressure on France to act quickly and Hollande acknowledged that the situation had become critical.
“They are trying to deliver a fatal blow to the very existence of this country,” he said. “France, like its African partners and the whole of the international community, cannot accept this.
“I have decided that France will respond without delay and alongside our partners, to the request of the Malian authorities.”
He added: “We will do it strictly in the framework of UN Security Council resolutions and we are ready to stop the terrorist offensive if it continues.”
Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, will visit Paris on Wednesday for talks with Hollande.