Mali: Press conference given by Minister Fabius (January 11, 2013)
Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)
Paris, January 11, 2013
THE MINISTER – Earlier on, President Hollande asked me and the Prime Minister to give you some details of the context in which his decision was taken. For several months now we’ve been drawing the whole world’s attention to the gravity of the situation in Mali. As you know, terrorist and criminal groups have settled in northern Mali which have not only jeopardized Mali’s integrity but which also – given the powerful weapons they have, the financial resources, their ideology and their frightening practices – are threatening Mali, the neighbouring countries, Africa as a whole, and Europe. These are terrorist and criminal groups.
That’s why the United Nations Security Council has taken a number of decisions, the latest being in December. That resolution rightly provided for the deployment of a force called AFISMA, the African-led International Support Mission to Mali. A number of decisions are enabling the terrorists to be fought and Mali to regain her integrity and resume her development.
Concurrently, Europe has taken decisions to help build, rebuild the Malian army. Mali’s neighbours in what is called ECOWAS have pledged to provide contingents. That was the situation a few weeks ago.
But for the past few days, the situation has unfortunately deteriorated very seriously and – taking advantage of the time delay between international decisions being taken and being implemented – the terrorist and criminal groups in northern Mali have decided to move southwards. Their goal is obviously to control the whole of Mali in order to establish a terrorist state there.
That’s why the Malian authorities referred the matter to both the United Nations Security Council and France, to ask them to intervene as a matter of urgency. The Security Council met yesterday and, in a statement adopted unanimously, deemed that the threat was extremely serious and that it was necessary to react. The matter was referred to it by the Malian authorities. A request was also made to France for air and military support.
Given this urgent situation, and on the basis of international law, President Hollande, the Head of State and head of the armed forces, took the decision to take up Mali’s request and the international community’s request. That’s the basis of the decision he’s announced today, which has started being implemented on the ground this very afternoon, through our support for the Malian troops.
That’s where things stand as I speak. I’d like to add two comments: this decision falls within international law and was dictated by the change in the situation brought about by the emergency. It’s been the subject of international consultation.
Yesterday and today, a whole range of authorities were consulted. Among others, I quite obviously want to mention constant contact with Mali, who made the request; with the leaders of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, including the Chairman, President Ouattara; with the African Union, including the Chairperson, President Boni Yayi, and Dr Zuma, Chairperson of the [African Union] Commission. I also spoke to our Algerian friends yesterday, our Nigerian friends, most of the European countries and their leaders, particularly Mrs Ashton and my colleagues from the United Kingdom and Germany, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and, quite obviously, the whole of the Security Council.
It’s a serious decision but one which was rendered absolutely necessary by the situation: the terrorists must be stopped from breaking through, otherwise the whole of Mali will fall into their hands, threatening the whole of Africa and Europe itself.
Secondly, as President Hollande indicated, there’s of course a need for full national consultation on this subject. This is why the Prime Minister – along with the Minister of Defence and me – is holding a meeting on Monday with all the senior political figures who have to be consulted. Parliament will of course be able to hear us, as it intends to do. The Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee thought that maybe on Wednesday, or another day at Parliament’s discretion, we could have all the necessary consultations.
I took the initiative, before the end of the evening, for the hostages’ families obviously to be informed. But it must be clearly understood, in this very difficult situation, that the hostages’ kidnappers are the same people who want to move into the south to continue their sinister work.
Tomorrow, the Defence Minister will be at your disposal to talk and give an update on the specifically military aspect of this operation. (…)
Q. – How long will this operation last?
THE MINISTER – As President Hollande said in his speech, it must quite obviously last as long as necessary to ensure we can achieve our goals – namely, halting the criminal terrorists’ advance southwards and enabling Mali to return to normal, of course, because only in this way will we be able to implement what the international community has decided.
Let me remind you there are three aspects: the need for political dialogue, which is nevertheless very difficult to engage in if 90% of Mali’s territory has been seized by the terrorists; a development aspect, because Mali is a very poor country that must be helped; and also a security aspect, namely the rebuilding of the Malian army, trained by Europe, and the ability to gradually regain the ground the terrorists have captured in recent months. But it’s also about blocking the criminal terrorists’ progress southwards, and that will take the necessary time. (…)
Q. – Can you confirm to us that Nigerian and Senegalese units are alongside the French, precisely to fight those terrorists?
THE MINISTER – No, the Malian troops are there; they asked for France’s support. ECOWAS too and the African Union asked for this support, but currently it’s the French who are supporting the Malian troops. (…)
Q. – What instructions are you giving French nationals in Mali?
THE MINISTER – There are around 6,000 nationals, particularly in the south in Bamako. Measures have been taken to make Bamako secure. Now, I think it’s reasonable to say that anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to be there is welcome to return, and let me point out that regular flights are operating. I’d also ask them to contact the Embassy to ensure the security instructions given are widely publicized and properly followed.
Q. – I’d like to know if you’ve had any discussions with the American Department of State or the White House on this issue; and if so, what did you say to each other?
THE MINISTER – The answer is yes. Yesterday, before the Security Council’s statement was made – at the Security Council, obviously – there were representatives of the United States of America, and the necessary contacts took place.
Likewise – although it happens to have been planned this way – I had a meeting on this and various other subjects this very morning with my colleague the Russian Foreign Minister.
Q. – Can you explain to us in concrete terms the legitimacy of this French intervention at this precise time?
THE MINISTER – At political level, the legitimacy is clear: when terrorist and criminal groups threaten the very existence of a friendly country and also threaten a community of French people – as I’ve said, 6,000 people – there’s political legitimacy in the broad sense, which is clear.
But if you want to go into legal considerations – and we’re entirely free to do so – there are, firstly, the appeal and the request made by Mali’s legitimate government, so here this is a case of legitimate self-defence; and secondly, all the United Nations resolutions, which not only allow but require those countries capable of doing so to support the fight against the terrorists in this matter.
Finally, to this legitimacy, drawn from Article 51 – to the legitimacy drawn from the United Nations resolutions – I’d like to add, if it were needed, two other forms of legitimacy: firstly the request by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, and [secondly] the position taken by the African Union, which is the subject of a press communiqué by Dr Zuma, who asked everyone to provide, in line with the relevant decisions by the Peace and Security Council, the required support at logistical and financial level and in terms of strengthening the capabilities of the Malian defence and security forces. So nobody is going to challenge this legitimacy. (…)
Q. – Just to be sure I’ve understood properly: like the President, you said this mission would last as long as necessary…
THE MINISTER – As long as necessary.
Q. – Is the aim of the mission to gradually regain the ground that was taken by the terrorists, as you say, or rather to block their progress southwards?
THE MINISTER – No, I’ve been as precise as I can be. I’ve said our aims are to halt the terrorists and criminals’ progress southwards, ensure Mali’s integrity and defend French nationals.
Q. – You’ve talked about the hostages; you said you’d informed the families…
THE MINISTER – We’re in the process of informing the families, yes, of course…
Q. – Do you now fear for their lives? Do you think this decision by France will change anything, and is it a risk you’re consciously taking?
THE MINISTER – As you know, for many months the hostages – most of them – have been in an extremely dangerous situation. I’ve met most of the families in the course of recent weeks. I gave them the information we had, and I got an idea of just how brave and responsible they are. I told them what our intentions are. I didn’t tell them a Malian intervention supported by the French will take place today, because – as I’ve told you, and this is the essential thing you have to remember – it’s the action, the initiative taken by terrorist and criminal groups to move southwards which obviously requires both an appeal from the Malians and the support of the international community and the French. It’s this new situation.
You must bear in mind that we’re doing and will do everything to save our hostages. You must also bear in mind that it’s the same groups – because all this is bound up together – who are both the hostage-takers and the terrorist groups heading southwards. Now, people will say, “No, it’s such-and-such a group”, etc. But it’s all bound up. By preventing the southward progress of these groups and responding to them extremely firmly, we think we’re serving the same cause as when we want to free the hostages, because ultimately it’s the same groups.
Q. – Would you accept the expression “France, Mali’s policeman”?
THE MINISTER – No.
Q. – Can you tell us why? Moreover, what do you think are the risks of France getting a little bit bogged down in Mali, as sometimes happens when you intervene in foreign, faraway countries where you can find yourself for longer than anticipated?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think the term “policeman”, or others, is pertinent. I’ve tried explaining to you – more or less correctly, I hope – that we intervened in support of the Malian forces because the international community has been asking for this and because Mali’s very existence as a democratic country is at stake, and the protection of our nationals requires it. When “policeman” was talked about, I think people had in mind perhaps untimely interventions. This one obviously isn’t.
You also ask the question: how long will it last and doesn’t it risk dragging on? I answered: the shortest time possible but long enough to see the job – a formidable one – through, and there’s absolutely no question of the French becoming established over there permanently – absolutely not, that’s not the goal. But when a state risks being swallowed up and terrorism for the first time risks establishing itself in an African state and controlling it and there are several thousand French nationals, the lives of several thousand French nationals at stake, then the issue isn’t at all about getting bogged down – that won’t happen – it’s about reaching out to save people who are dying.
Q. – Will this operation end when you have halted the terrorist groups’ advance southwards or when the Malian forces assisted by France, assisted by the African forces, have liberated the north…?
THE MINISTER – I’ve understood the question perfectly well. The aim of this operation is to stop the terrorist forces’ advance southwards. Afterwards, there’s the plan adopted by the international community, which is at once a political, development and security plan. But it’s necessary, in order for it to be applied – and as provided for at the outset under this plan, the French are only the facilitators – it is up to the Africans themselves to take things in hand. We’re only providing support and as such have no intention at all of being in the front line: that isn’t our mission at all. But for the international community to be able to adopt this plan, for it to come into being, Mali must continue to exist and the terrorists mustn’t take over the whole of Mali. There you are. Thank you very much./.