BAMAKO • French President Emmanuel Macron, on a lightning visit to Mali yesterday, threw his weight behind a planned Sahel force to fight Islamist terrorists, but told countries their efforts had to bear fruit.
The so-called "G-5 Sahel" countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger - have pledged to set up a joint force to combat the wave of Islamist bombings, shootings and kidnappings south of the Sahara.
Mr Macron, joining the heads of state in the Malian capital, Bamako, for a special summit, hailed the initiative as "a dynamic, a groundswell which France is proud to back".
But, he said, "it will be up to you and your armed forces to demonstrate that the G-5 can be effective, while respecting humanitarian conventions. The results have to be there to convince your partners."
Based in Sevare in central Mali, the 5,000-strong G-5 Sahel force aims to bolster 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers and France's own 4,000-member Operation Barkhane, which is operating in the region.
Mr Macron is also looking for extra backing from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States - which already has a drone base in Niger - beyond a pledge of €50 million (S$78.6 million) made by the European Union (EU), a sum he described as "the start of a long-term commitment".
Dr Serge Michailof, a researcher at the Paris-based Iris institute, described the EU contribution as "a joke", given the EU's "very deep pockets" and the poverty of the Sahel countries. "This force is going to cost US$300 million (S$413 million) to US$400 million at the very least," he told Agence France-Presse. Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop gave a figure of US$450 million.
Al-Qaeda's Mali branch, meanwhile, offered a reminder of the militant threat, with the release of a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages.
The clip posted last Saturday by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, includes elderly Australian surgeon Arthur Kenneth Elliott and Frenchwoman Sophie Petronin.
Mr Macron said yesterday that France would "put all our energy towards eradicating" those responsible for kidnapping Ms Petronin.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS