France vows to continue military operations in Mali

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FRENCH foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday France will continue with its military operations in Mali where two French soldiers were killed on Saturday.

‘There is no question of letting down the guard. We are making progress in Mali where we are fighting to ensure our security and that of other countries,’ Le Drian told France Inter radio.

Two French soldiers were killed and a third seriously injured while on an operation in Mali on Saturday when an improvised explosive device destroyed their armoured vehicle. The soldiers were part of France’s Barkhane military operations in Mali against Islamic fighters.

Le Drian echoed President Emmanuel Macron’s call on Saturday for setting up a transition back to civilian rule in Mali.

International powers fear the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a military coup on August 18 could further destabilise the West African nation and undermine the fight against insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State in the wider Sahel region.

Meanwhile, ousted Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita left the country on Saturday for medical treatment in Abu Dhabi, an adviser said, as talks about a transition back to civilian rule after last month’s military coup got off to a chaotic start.

Keita, 75, was admitted to hospital in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, six days after he was released from detention by the ruling junta, which seized power on August 18. His former chief of staff, Mamadou Camara, told Reuters that Keita left Bamako on Saturday evening aboard a plane chartered by the United Arab Emirates at the request of Mali’s ruling junta.

‘It is a medical visit of between 10 and 15 days,’ Camara said.

Keita’s medical condition is unclear. He had a benign tumour removed from his neck in 2016.

West African leaders, fearing the coup could set a precedent that would undermine their power and an international fight against Islamist militants in the wider Sahel region, initially insisted Keita be restored to power.

But they have since dropped that demand and are now calling for elections within a year: a timeline the junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), has not committed to.

Talks about the shape of the transition period opened on Saturday with hundreds of representatives from the junta, political parties and civil society groups attending an opening ceremony in Bamako.

But less than an hour after it began, supporters of the M5-RFP coalition, which led mass demonstrations against Keita before the coup, began to protest, accusing the junta of excluding them from most working groups.

M5-RFP supporters in the conference hall shouted down the moderator onstage, bringing proceedings to a halt.

The moderator later announced that the M5-RFP would be able to participate in all of the working groups, which calmed the coalition’s supporters and allowed the event to resume.

The talks, which are also being held in regional capitals across Mali, are scheduled to continue on Sunday and then resume again late next week.

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