DPA / Paris
The leaders of five West African countries yesterday laid wreaths at a French barracks in honour of soldiers killed in Mali in November, before talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron invited the Sahel leaders to the town of Pau, where seven of the soldiers were based, after 13 troops were killed in a helicopter collision during action against militants.
But the summit, which raised hackles in the five former French colonies where France’s anti-insurgency Operation Barkhane operates, was postponed after a militant attack in Niger in December killed 71 soldiers.
France has some 4,500 troops based in Mali, Niger and Chad to back up local forces against militant fighters, and Macron wants political commitments from the region’s leaders.
The presidents of those three countries, as well as those of Burkina Faso and Mauritania, were present for the talks.
The five countries are sometimes called the G5 Sahel.
Macron has demanded that the Sahel leaders state what they want from Paris, oppose local “anti-French” sentiment, and do “the necessary political work on their side” to build on France’s military actions.
France is also hoping for further European support for its efforts against militants, who are particularly active in the so-called tri-border region, where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet.
Last week, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita gave the French military presence the overt backing Macron has been looking for.
Wanting to “make us believe that our friends are our enemies is against the interests of the Malian people and the FAMA (Malian Armed Forces),” he said in a New Year address.
But Choguel Maiga, leader of the opposition Patriotic Renewal Movement, told newspaper L’Independant yesterday that the summit should bring about “clarifications from both sides,” questioning France’s role in northern Mali.
French troops have been in the Sahel region since they intervened in 2013 to recapture northern Mali from militants.
France and the EU have supported a joint force between the five Sahel countries in an attempt to build up local military capacities, so far with little success.
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