France stands with Africa against Al-Qaeda: minister
France stands alongside northern African countries tackling Al-Qaeda, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday on a tour of the region days after militants said they executed a French hostage.
Kouchner said in Bamako that Mali wanted to boost co-ordination in military operations against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahel desert area running through northern Africa, and he agreed.
"President Amadou Toumani Toure, quite rightly, believes that operations, must be co-ordinated, larger operations against AQIM, against terrorism in general," Kouchner told media after talks with the Mali leader.
This was the task of a headquarters in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset staffed by representatives of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- some of the countries in the Sahel, he said.
According to corroborating sources, Mali says it was not informed of all the details of a raid by French and Mauritainian troops on July 22 on AQIM camps in Mali intended to free 78-year-old French hostage Michel Germaneau.
The soldiers stormed the camps and killed seven militants, according to a toll given by the Mauritanian government. AQIM said Sunday it had killed Germaneau, held for eight months in northern Mali, as revenge. It said six of its militants were killed in the raid.
The minister said the execution of the hostage was "a heinous crime".
He started his tour on Mauritania Monday and later Tuesday travelled on to the Niger capital, Niamey, where he met the head of the junta in power since February, General Salou Djibo.
Speaking to reporters, Kouchner rejected that France was involved in any "military escalation" in the region.
"It is not a military escalation that France is pursuing. Simply, a deadly escalation has been carried out by the people of AQIM. There is a military option that was imposed on us," he said.
"We do not accept this blackmail with the lives of innocents, and General Salou Djibo told me the same thing," he said.
"We will be alongside our Nigerien, Malian, Mauritanian friends," he said.
Asked about the possibility of French military bases being established in the region, he said: "We are not going to install bases. We have very clear defence agreements."
He urged French citizens in the region to "take all possible precautions".
"They must follow the instructions and be careful, or they should give up travelling in dangerous areas," he said.
The small but tightly run AQIM has in recent years stepped up tourist kidnappings and terrorist activities in the region.
France is the former colonial ruler of most of the Sahel and retains influence with regional leaders.
© 2010 AFP