Visit to Senegal
Q. – France is advising her citizens to leave Mali. Why?
THE MINISTER – Because the situation is deteriorating very quickly. As you know, from the outset we condemned this coup d’état and called for a return to constitutional order as soon as possible, and we support the ECOWAS initiatives 100%. That’s why I’m here this morning. I hope to be able to take part – as I was invited to – in the meeting due to take place early in the afternoon. So work must first be done at political level to ensure constitutional order is restored, as I’ve said, and so that elections can be held as quickly as possible, enabling a legitimate government to be appointed. Then there’s the military question, because it seems the Tuareg offensive is being conducted towards the south, and we’re going to talk about that. So the situation is dangerous, and that’s why I’ve asked our citizens to leave Mali so as not to take any risk. We’re also going to close our lycée ahead of the Easter holidays. In short, I think we must take every possible precaution, and that’s what I have decided to do.
Q. – Is the Tuareg and Islamist offensive in the north a threat to the French community?
THE MINISTER – Of course. Let me remind you that we have six hostages in the Sahel and that AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] is identifying us very explicitly as a target, so we must take every possible precaution, and it appears that this Islamist, jihadist, extremist faction is in the process of gaining the upper hand among the different Tuareg factions. So of course we are utterly concerned.
Q. – In concrete terms, what can France and the international community do to counter this?
THE MINISTER – I repeat: support the ECOWAS initiative. I think it’s up to the Africans to find the way out of this crisis – the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States, which is in the front line. President Compaoré has begun mediation, so there are reasons to believe the political deadlock can be overcome. The junta has announced it’s ready to restore the constitution and put in place a mechanism allowing movement towards the election of a new president. So I think things can make progress on that front. By contrast, the military angle deserves more in-depth consultation, and that’s what is going to be done in a moment at this ECOWAS meeting.
Q. – In other words, the military option against the rebellion isn’t being ruled out?
THE MINISTER – It’s up to the Economic Community of West African States to decide on that. Obviously it’s not for France to be in the front line. So I think that today it’s an issue for consideration which the heads of state will discuss.
Q. – Not in the front line, but supporting?
THE MINISTER – No. France won’t commit herself militarily. We can help at logistical or training level, but there’s no question of putting French soldiers on the ground, of course./.