France pledges 'logistical' support for north Mali military operationBy AFP | Friday, September 21 2012 at 08:56
France would provide logistical support for any military intervention in northern Mali, which was overrun by Islamist militants this year, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday.
He said the initiative for any such action would come from African states, saying "clearly, that is being developed". A west African regional grouping has been considering sending more than 3,000 troops into northern Mali.
This meant indirect support, sending material, but not men, he said.
Asked about the threat Wednesday from Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch to kill French hostages kidnapped in Niger two years ago, Mr Le Drian said the situation in the region was unacceptable.
France could not let a situation develop which ended in the creation "of a kind of terrorist sanctuary" by "organised gangs" claiming to be Al-Qaeda in Mali, he added.
But asked about armed intervention, he said: "There is a process that has already been initiated as the President of Mali has appealed to his neighbours gathered in Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) for their help recapturing the north".
French President Francois Hollande would raise the issue at the United Nations general assembly in New York next week, but this remained an African initiative, he added.
On Wednesday Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch threatened to kill French hostages it kidnapped in Niger two years ago, accusing Paris of backing plans for an invasion of Islamist-held northern Mali.
West African nations are currently studying the possible deployment of regional troops to Mali to help win back the north of the country from the armed groups that seized it in the wake of a March 22 coup.
Meanwhile Islamists controlling Mali's northern city of Timbuktu on Thursday began arresting women not wearing a veil and have ordered any women caught out in the street late at night jailed, residents reported.
"The Islamists are today criss-crossing the town's market and arresting girls not wearing a veil," El Mehdi Cisse, a resident of the Djinguerey Ber neighbourhood, told news agency AFP by phone.
Any woman seen on the street after 11:00 pm would be taken to prison and must pay a fine, he added, citing an edict from the Ansar Dine Islamists, who have ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
"Since last night, they've visited imams to tell them that from now on all girls must be decently dressed," said another resident Boubacar Yattara.
The imams were also told of the creation of a "women's prison" and different fines for contravening "Islamic law", one imam said.
The move is the latest in a series hardline rules imposed by jihadists and radical Islamists in Mali's north, where sharia law has been enforced.
Amnesty International on Thursday decried what it said was an increase in violence and severe punishments in the north.
They cited cases in which they had stoned to death an unwed couple, carried out amputations on suspected robbers and flogged cigarette smokers.
A March 22 coup in the capital Bamako led to chaos in the north, with Tuareg rebels and Islamists quick to exploit the army's weakened hold on the expansive desert part of the west African country.
Ansar Dine fighters have also destroyed several ancient Muslim sites and shrines in Timbuktu, declaring the relics "haram", or forbidden.
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