No compromise in fight against Mali militants, says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron and Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita visiting the Gao military base yesterday in northern Mali, where some 1,600 French troops are stationed as part of the counter-terror Operation Barkhane.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita visiting the Gao military base yesterday in northern Mali, where some 1,600 French troops are stationed as part of the counter-terror Operation Barkhane.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

GAO (Mali) • France will be uncompromising in its fight against militant Islamists in Mali and the Sahel region, President Emmanuel Macron has said during his first visit outside Europe's borders.

The newly minted French leader also said France was determined to act for continued security in the region, and would seek to strengthen cooperation with France's European Union partner Germany to that end.

He was speaking yesterday alongside Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the Gao military base in the north of the country where some 1,600 troops are based.

"Germany is very present in back-up operations," Mr Macron said. "I want to strengthen that partnership and make sure that this German commitment, which is already present, can be intensified."

He added: "Germany knows what is at stake here (and) is also part of Europe's security and our future. Neither France nor Germany are isolated islands."

The French troops in Gao are part of Operation Barkhane, the counter-terror operation whose mission is to target militant groups operating in the Sahel region south of the Sahara.

Mr Macron was travelling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who as the former defence minister knows Gao well, and his replacement in that job, Ms Sylvie Goulard.

The presence of French Development Agency chief Remy Rioux in the President's entourage is taken as a sign that Mr Macron wants to put more emphasis on economic development in its former colonies.

Northern Mali fell to radical groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, but a French-led military intervention the following year drove the extremists out from key towns.

But militants continue to roam the country's north and centre, mounting attacks on civilians and the army, as well as French and UN forces still stationed there.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'No compromise in fight against Mali militants, says Macron'. Print Edition | Subscribe