France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

Soldiers stand guard at sunset as France's President and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (unseen) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

  • “The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive..." Macron said

NIAMEY: France and five allied Sahel countries have reached a “turning point” in their fight against militants, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, wrapping up a weekend visit to the troubled region.
“The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive in the fight we are waging against terrorism,” Macron said in the Niger capital Niamey, where he paid homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers killed in an militant attack earlier this month.
“We are at a turning point in this war,” he said.
France and the five Sahel countries hosting French troops had to “define the military, political and development goals of the next six, 12 and 18 months much more clearly” at a summit in southwestern France next month, he added.
Macron began his visit to the region in Ivory Coast on Friday, celebrating Christmas with French soldiers stationed there.
The role of former colonial power France in the region has come under the spotlight following a renewed militant insurgency that has raised questions about the effectiveness of French and UN troops there.
“We need the political conditions to accompany the military work we do,” he told the 4,500-strong French contingent in Ivory Coast.
In Niamey, he said: “I see opposition movements, groups, who denounce the French presence as a neo-colonial, imperialist.”
Complaining of a lack of “clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings,” Macron said he was loath to send soldiers to countries where their presence was not “clearly wanted.”
The leaders of the anti-jihadist G5 Sahel alliance grouping Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad are to meet in Pau, France, on January 13.
There, they would clarify the “political and strategic framework” of their operations, said Macron.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said the summit would “launch an appeal for international solidarity so that the Sahel and France are not alone in this fight.”
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday told French television the G5 leaders would deliver a message demanding a “respectable and respectful” relationship with France.
On Saturday, in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast, Macron said 33 “terrorists” had been “neutralized” in neighboring Mali. A source close to the presidency confirmed that this meant they had been killed.
French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by militants, Macron said.
The operation involved teams of commandos and attack helicopters in the flashpoint city of Mopti in central Mali.
“This considerable success shows the commitment of our forces, the support that we bring to Mali, to the region and to our own security,” Macron said.
The French armed forces ministry in a statement said the Mopti military operation targeted a camp where militants had gathered in a densely wooded area and fighting continued into the morning.
French forces captured a stash of heavy weaponry, four vehicles, including one mounted with an anti-aircraft canon, and motorbikes.
But the successful Mali operation came just weeks after 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they hunted militants in the country’s north.
Last month’s crash was the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades.
“We have had losses, we also have victories this morning thanks to the commitment of our soldiers and Operation Barkhane,” he said, referring to France’s military operation against  militants in the Sahel.
Despite a French troop presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict that erupted in 2012 has engulfed the center of the country and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


At least 16 dead as India airliner crashes on landing

Updated 49 min 19 sec ago

At least 16 dead as India airliner crashes on landing

  • The Air India Express plane from Dubai had 191 passengers and crew on board when it overshot the runway
  • There were 10 infants on board

NEW DELHI: At least 16 people were killed Friday when a passenger jet overshot and skidded off the runway as it landed in southern India, breaking into two pieces, officials said.
Dozens of people were injured, 15 of them seriously, after the Air India Express Boeing 737 originating from Dubai touched down in Kozhikode in heavy rain.
The airline said more than 190 passengers and crew were on board the plane that, according to the aviation ministry, plunged 10 meters (35 feet) down a slope off the end of the raised so-called table-top runway.
Television footage showed the fuselage of the jet ripped apart and surrounded by emergency personnel working in the dark, spraying the wreckage with water although there was no sign of any fire.
Sakeen K., the district medical officer in the nearby city of Malappuram, said that 16 people had died.
“We are still ascertaining the toll,” she told AFP.
Kozhikode official Seeram Sambasiva said that the two pilots were among the dead.
Senior local policeman Abdul Karim told AFP said that another 15 passengers “have critical injuries. It is still a developing situation.”
“We have at least 89 people, many of them with serious injuries, admitted at different Kozhikode hospitals. The ambulances are still coming in,” said Sujith Das, another senior police official.
“We have been told that all those who have survived the crash also have some form of injuries.”
Aviation regulator DGCA said the plane skidded off the end of the runway and “fell down in the valley and broke down in two pieces.”
Four people were still stuck inside the plane. media reports said.
One television channel reported there had been a problem with the jet’s landing gear.
Air India Express said in a statement that there was “no fire reported at the time of landing.”
It said there were 174 passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and five cabin crew on board the aircraft.
The plane was one of dozens in recent weeks to repatriate some of the thousands of Indians left stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic, many of them in Gulf countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences.
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest... Authorities are at the spot, providing all assistance to the affected,” Modi said.
The last major plane crash in India was in 2010 when an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway and burst into flames.
The crash killed 158 people and left eight survivors.
Kerala has been battered by heavy rains in recent days.
At least 15 people were killed on Friday after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of huts elsewhere in the state.
Around 50 other people were feared trapped in the debris. The dead included two children.