French PM insists troops not bogged down in Mali

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted on Friday that the French-led operation against Islamists in Mali was making clear progress and in no danger of getting bogged down.

"There's no risk of a stalemate. France has met and respected the goals it set itself," Ayrault told reporters during a visit to Buenos Aires.

France has deployed troops to its former West African colony to prevent Islamist rebels from advancing on the capital and to buy time for the Malian government and a West African regional force to organize a counterattack.

This has led to fears in some quarters that French soldiers will be drawn into a long-term engagement in the unstable region, an idea rejected by Paris.

"The inter-African international mission is getting into place bit by bit.

Its role is to take over from French troops," Ayrault said.

He said the French intervention force's first goal had been to stop "the terrorist group from penetrating as far as Bamako and installing itself in the very heart of Africa.

"These terrorist troops have been stopped and are retreating. The goal is to continue to make them retreat and to fight them," he said.

Ayrault said France's next task would be to help organise a "political transition" in Mali to secure permanent civilian rule and to persuade its European partners to join it in supporting economic development there.

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