Mali/Foreign Affairs Council – Press conference given by Laurent Fabius (excerpts - January 17, 2013)
Brussels, 17 January 2013
THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, let me say straight away that I won’t be able to comment on the tragic events currently occurring in Algeria. Contradictory reports are circulating and I don’t have the latest information. It’s an extraordinarily dramatic situation that shows what an absolute evil terrorism is.
I’d like to speak about what we’ve done together today. Following a conversation with Mrs Ashton, we agreed that a meeting of the European foreign ministers was necessary, given the situation in Mali. We invited Mali’s Foreign Minister, Mr Coulibaly, to speak on this occasion. We then took a number of decisions.
Those decisions basically concern the urgent rebuilding of the Malian army. A few months ago now, Europe envisaged the principle of contributing to this by providing the necessary assistance in the form of troops. But in view of the urgent situation – which we emphasized – a decision was taken to act immediately.
The general commanding this force to rebuild the Malian army has been appointed. He’s a French general, M. Lecointre. He’ll be at work at the end of this week. The rebuilding of the Malian army, its combat training, will begin in the coming days.
The second point I’d like to stress is that all the European countries voiced their solidarity both with Mali and with France’s action. All my colleagues without exception emphasized that they fully supported France’s action and thanked her for acting so quickly, because – in the words of one of them – “without France’s action, there would no longer be a Mali”.
Moreover, a number of countries confirmed that they’d decided to contribute, or were going to decide to contribute, additional support in the framework of what’s called the AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission to Mali], some to help with troop transport, others in a humanitarian capacity or in other ways. But what strikes me is the Europeans’ solidarity and unanimous approval regarding Mali and France’s action. (…)
France’s action was necessary, it was urgent, for a reason that is both completely simple and tragic. The terrorists – whether they’re from AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], MUJAO [Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa] or Ansar Dine – actually came from both eastern and western Mali. They were moving down to capture a number of towns, whose names you’re familiar with. If those towns had been captured, Bamako would have been captured; in other words, a terrorist state would have taken control of Mali.
Now, let me remind those who may have forgotten that Mali has seven borders with a whole series of countries. If you add one country, it links Mali to the Mediterranean and then to Europe. So it was absolutely urgent to intervene. That’s what we did with the Malians.
The French intervened extremely swiftly on the ground, because there was only a five-hour delay between President Hollande’s decision and its implementation. Everyone – not only in France but also in [the rest of] Europe and the international community – has highlighted France’s action. Furthermore, one of my colleagues – Mr Asselborn, Luxembourg’s [Foreign] Minister, whom you know, who attended last week’s Security Council session – said he’d never seen the Security Council countries so unanimously approve the legality, appropriateness and effectiveness of France’s action. (…)
For the moment the European countries have decided to provide major help in the form of troops – around 500 – to speed up the rebuilding of the Malian army. That’s been decided, and the French general commanding this European mission will be on the ground on Sunday. Next, a number of countries have already decided to provide or emphasize their logistical assistance. In particular this relates to transport for some and communications for others. I’ve been informed that other European countries – and they’re welcome – are going to provide similar help. Likewise, it’s entirely possible – but it’s their own responsibility – that some European countries will decide not only to provide logistical help but also to make soldiers available. Of course we can’t force them to do so. There are limits to the [Common] Security and Defence Policy, even though we regret it. France has been acting, campaigning to this effect for a very long time. (…)
If you ask me the question, “are we set to remain in Mali forever?” the answer is obviously “no”. It’s up to the Africans to be at the forefront of this action. We’re also being asked, “is France alone?” My answer is the following: the French are not alone, they’re taking the lead. They’re not alone at all when you see that they’re shouldering the hopes of a people, of many peoples, as well as international law.
Q. – What are you expecting from Algeria’s role in this context? Do you think they should play a key role in the conflict?
THE MINISTER – Due to her geographical position bordering on Mali, due to the fact she’s a large country which has unfortunately suffered terrorism for years, due to her population, contacts and influence, Algeria obviously plays an important role in the whole of this region. The Algerians (…) have perfectly understood what an evil terrorism is.
What’s currently happening is once again showing this in a terribly tragic way. The Algerians announced their decision to close their border and that they were authorizing French planes to fly over their territory. It is now up to the Algerian authorities to express a view on all this, but I have no doubts about the fact that Algeria understands perfectly – and appreciates more than anyone – what an evil terrorism is. (…)
Q. – A final question on Mali. Can you achieve your goals without more forthcoming support from your European partners?
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course we’d like to have the maximum support from all sides, from Europe of course. The Americans and the Canadians are providing us with assistance, other countries as well, and the Europeans – it’s only natural, given the fact that we’re European, we’re also acting on Europe’s behalf, and that Europe, as you know, isn’t far from Mali!
When you know that terrorism and even narco-terrorism represents a considerable threat to our societies, it’s clear that everyone must show solidarity.
France, as François Hollande has emphasized, isn’t defending economic or financial interests. She’s defending a people, Mali, who wants to be free. She’s defending the possibility of Africa’s freedom and development, she’s defending Europe and she’s defending a certain idea of international unity. By doing this – and by committing troops to it, which is the toughest decision to take – France is doing her rightful duty. Thank you very