French forces leave Timbuktu in Mali after nearly nine years | News
The French army has said “will be present in a different way” as the former colonial power reduces its military presence in Mali.
French forces have left the city of Timbuktu, the latest sign that the former colonial power is reducing its presence in northern Mali almost nine years after a military intervention that helped push back fighters who have invaded parts of the country.
It was in Timbuktu, on February 2, 2013, that former French President FranÃ§ois Hollande declared the start of the French military offensive in Mali. On Tuesday, the French flag was lowered and the Malian flag hoisted in its place at a military base, where a force of around 150 soldiers remained after France began to withdraw its troops.
General Etienne du Peyroux, head of the French military campaign for Operation Barkhane in Mali, shook hands with the new camp commander and presented him with a large wooden key as a French military plane made a low flight over altitude.
France “will be present in a different way,” said du Peyroux. âThis is ultimately the goal of Operation Barkhane: to allow Mali to take its destiny in handâ¦ but always in partnership.
The new Malian commander made no comment.
In a statement, the French army stressed that the Malian army maintains “a strong garrison in Timbuktu”, in addition to nearly 2,200 United Nations peacekeepers who are permanently deployed there.
Mali has been embroiled in a conflict that started as a separatist movement in the north of the country in 2012, but has evolved into a host of armed groups fighting for control in the central and northern regions.
The fighting has spread to neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso and Niger, as the deteriorating security situation in the region has triggered an acute humanitarian crisis.
France announced earlier this year that it would withdraw more than 2,000 troops from the Sahel region by early 2022, refocusing its military efforts on neutralizing rebel operations, and strengthening and training local armies.
The move came amid growing political instability in Mali, where Colonel Assimi Goita carried out two coups d’Ã©tat in less than a year before being sworn in as the country’s interim president.
In recent months, reports of a possible deployment of mercenaries hired by the controversial Wagner group in Mali have further strained the already strained links between the French government and the coup plotters. The growing tensions also came at a time when anti-French sentiment has become very popular among Malians who accuse Paris of not containing the escalation of violence and of pursuing a hidden agenda.
The French army has already closed its bases further north in Kidal and Tessalit but maintains its presence in Gao near an unstable border region where operations have been concentrated in recent years.
The international community has set a deadline for holding new democratic elections in Mali by the end of February, although there are growing signs that this will not happen.
On Sunday, the regional bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) warned that Mali could face additional sanctions if more “concrete progress” is not made. ‘here January 1 in preparation for the elections.
ECOWAS has already suspended Mali and imposed travel bans and asset freezes on members of the transitional government.
Army chiefs have cited growing insecurity across Mali as one reason the February deadline is not achievable.