Niger holds security meeting over Mali conflict
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou on Monday held a national security council meeting about the conflict in neighbouring Mali, where French forces have launched an offensive against armed Islamists, an official said.
"The president of the republic has convened the national security council to examine the latest developments in the situation in Mali," Issoufou's cabinet director Hassoumi Massaoudou told AFP.
Massaoudou said that the meeting, which gathered army chiefs and those of the defence forces and national security, was aimed at "the preparation of decisions" that the authorities would take on Mali.
On Monday, Issoufou told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that "the Malian territory and people are victims of an aggression led by a coalition of terrorists and drug dealers, who flaunt a religious cloak, but have nothing Muslim about them."
"Niger will therefore meet its responsibilities to free the north of Mali and rid the Sahel of these criminals," he added.
Niger on Saturday announced that it would send a battalion of 500 soldiers to Mali to join a west African peacekeeping force to help drive out the Islamists who have occupied the north for 10 months.
Like Mali, Niger is a vast and poor west African nation on the southern edge of the Sahara, vulnerable to the armed operations of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and to past insurgency by Tuareg rebels.
Issoufou confirmed reports that Niger had deployed troops along its border with Mali. Asked about the possibility of Islamists from Mali falling back into Niger, he said he ruled out no hypothesis and "made maximum preparations."
The UN Security Council in December approved the sending of 3,300 troops from countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Mali, but before France intervened last Friday, no action was taken on this long-standing decision.
The ECOWAS chairman, President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, on Friday authorised the immediate despatch of west African forces to help the Malian army in its offensive against the Islamists.
© 2013 AFP