Ecowas authorises troop deployment in Mali

2013-01-11 22:00
Alassane Ouattara (Picture: AFP)

Alassane Ouattara (Picture: AFP)

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Lagos - The chairperson of west African bloc Ecowas on Friday authorised the immediate deployment of troops to Mali, a statement said amid an offensive against Islamists who control the country's desert north.

"The chairman, after consultations with his peers and conforming to [UN] Security Council Resolution 2 085, is deciding to authorise the immediate sending of troops on the ground... to help the Malian army defend its territorial integrity," said the statement signed by Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current Ecowas chairperson.

The statement came after Mali's army said troops from Nigeria, Senegal and France were deployed in support of government forces in their offensive against Islamists in the country's centre.

Mali on Friday declared a state of emergency and unleashed the offensive against the Islamists amid growing fears of the country becoming an Afghanistan-style haven for extremists within easy reach of western Europe.

The UN Security Council has given its blessing for a 3 000-strong African force to be sent to Mali but it was not expected to be ready to deploy before September at the earliest.

In its statement, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States expressed its "deep concern following the deterioration of the situation in Mali".

It added that it was especially concerned "over the current attempt by terrorist occupation forces to take the city of Kona and advance toward the south on positions held by the Malian armed forces."

The statement did not give further details on troop deployments. An army spokesman in Nigeria, which has the largest military in the bloc, said he had no information on the situation.

Nigeria, where Ecowas headquarters is located, had earlier pledged 600 troops for the force.

France has led calls for an international response but had until on Friday insisted that its involvement would be limited to providing logistical support for the force being prepared by Ecowas.

The situation has evolved rapidly in recent days.

The Islamists captured Kona earlier this week and moved about 1 200 fighters to within 20km of Mopti, a strategically important town on the frontier between rebel-held and government-held territories.

There have been concerns in west Africa over the risks posed by the Islamists and criminal gangs operating in northern Mali.

Those concerns include speculation over whether northern Mali groups and Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria have begun to cooperate more closely.

US General Carter Ham, head of US Africa Command, has said he was concerned about indications of growing links between African extremist groups that could pose a threat across the continent as well as to Europe and the United States.

"We have seen clear indications of collaboration amongst the organisations," he said recently.

"In one instance... we believe and have seen reports that Boko Haram is receiving financial support, probably training, probably some explosives, from al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, and in a relationship that goes both ways."

There has long been intense scrutiny over whether Boko Haram is forming operational ties with other extremist groups.

Diplomats have previously pointed to evidence of Boko Haram members seeking training in northern Mali, but not operational links.

Read more on:    aqim  |  mali  |  west africa
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