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Government Statement and Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Published on January 18, 2013
Government Statement and Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Laurent Fabius

Paris, January 16, 2013

I will read you the Prime Minister’s message. “For several years now, we have been concerned by the rise of terrorism in the Sahel. The deterioration of the situation in Mali, in 2012, unfortunately confirmed that the worst scenarios were possible. Terrorist groups, which have taken over part of that country and dealt an unacceptable blow to its sovereignty, have established a terrorist sanctuary 2,500 kilometers [about 1,550 miles] from our borders. The security of the entire region is endangered, and France and Europe are threatened.

At the UN General Assembly last September, the President stated that the occupation of northern Mali by these terrorist groups was unacceptable. France rallied the international community’s support. After two resolutions, the UN Security Council voted on December 20 to establish the [African-led] International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). The European Union decided to establish a training operation to support it. It was most likely to block this effort that terrorist groups in northern Mali joined forces to simultaneously attack cities east and west of Bamako.

On January 9, Mali’s President asked us for military assistance. The capture of Konna on January 10 convinced us that we were indeed dealing with classic aggression. President Hollande decided on January 11 that France should intervene militarily. In the face of dangerous enemies, France is pursuing clear objectives: halting the terrorist advance, preserving the Malian state and helping it regain its territorial integrity, promoting the implementation of international resolutions with the deployment of the African force, and providing support for Malian forces in their effort to recapture northern Mali.

Operation Serval now comprises 1,700 French troops, 800 of which are on Malian soil. Twelve fighter planes and five tanker aircraft have been mobilized, along with tactical staff, two company-size combat units and an armored squadron. They are focusing on helping Malian armed forces end the pressure from terrorist groups through a combined air-and-ground action led by Special Forces, which have been involved from the beginning, and involving air strikes supported by ground units. The first troops belonging to French companies in Bamako have begun moving toward combat zones. We are targeting terrorist rear bases in order to neutralize their offensive capabilities.

There is no question of maintaining the current front line, which is nothing other than the result of an artificial division of Mali and a balance of power that we specifically intend to alter.

France is acting at the Malian authorities’ request, in accordance with article 51 of the UN Charter. Indeed, the UN Secretary General welcomed our response to this sovereign request by Mali. At the Security Council, a large majority of member states lauded the swiftness of our response. Its appropriateness and legality are indisputable.

And in fact France is not alone. The African nations are universally relieved. Algeria has granted us flyover rights and closed its border with Mali. Our European partners have also risen to the occasion, assisting with logistics, transport and air-to-air refueling. The United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Denmark are expected to be joined by others very soon. We can also count on the support of the United States, Canada and others, who have made us offers.

Our intervention is aimed at preventing Mali’s collapse. It is not our role to remain on the front lines. We are working to accelerate the deployment of the African force. The first AFISMA detachment has arrived in Bamako, and the first African troops should reach the capital by the end of the week. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began meeting yesterday, and a summit will be held in Abidjan on January 19. I will be there. It will propose the operational deployment of AFISMA.

Mrs. Ashton convened a special meeting of EU foreign ministers in order to examine the issue and offer appropriate responses.

Yesterday, we spoke of the measures being taken by the government to protect our citizens under the Vigipirate [antiterrorism] plan. The same attention is being given to the situation of our 6,000 citizens in Mali. Those whose presence isn’t essential have been told to temporarily leave the country, although we have not gone so far as to proceed with their evacuation.

Finally, I want to mention the situation of our hostages and the anguish of their families, with whom we stand united. But the very people who are holding them hostage are the ones who want to take over all of Mali. Doing nothing would not have contributed to their release.

The government knows it can count on all our political parties. I want to applaud the courage and determination of our soldiers on the ground. Yesterday the Prime Minister presided over the ceremony paying tribute to Lieutenant Boiteux, who fell in combat.

For any democracy, committing armed forces is a grave decision. But it is already clear that our intervention has already changed the equation on the ground. We’ve succeeded in stopping the terrorist offensive. In Bamako, interim institutions have been bolstered. A lasting peace will come about through a political solution and nationwide democratic elections. Mali’s Prime Minister wants to move quickly. The situation between northern and southern Mali must change; negotiations must be held as soon as things get back to normal. We also want to give Mali a new economic dimension. We applaud the European Commission’s decision to unblock 100 million [euros] for Mali, and France will resume its bilateral aid as soon as the road map has been adopted. By deciding to answer Mali’s call, the government wanted to show its determination to fight terrorism. This determination is total.”

I would like to add three short messages to this statement by the Prime Minister.

Such an action is not without risk, but the greatest risk would have been to do nothing, because there would be no more Mali, but rather a terrorist state in its place.

I am touched by the approval, the emotion even, of Malians, both those in Mali and those living here, and of the African community, over the French intervention. […]

Finally, I applaud the reaction of all French political parties, which have shown they were equal to making crucial decisions. It is a contribution of the highest order.

[Speeches by Parliamentarians]

Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Thank you for your well-thought-out statements, which are a tribute to politics and this assembly.

I want to thank Speaker of the Senate, Mr. Carrère, for his powerful statements. He rightly underlined the urgency of the debate, the government’s availability. France has for a long time led the way in Mali. Mr. Carrère paid tribute to our soldiers, as everyone has done. When the house is on fire, we have to put the fire out, he said. Nothing could be truer. He also drew broader lessons from this intervention, by highlighting that we cannot commend the speed of the intervention without drawing the consequences for the defense budget…

I want to thank Mr. Cambon for the quality of his thoughts. He underscored the risk that terrorism posed for Mali, as well as for Africa, Europe and the world, and unequivocally supported France’s involvement. He asked me about the tragedy in Somalia. I want to warn you about the appalling exploitation of one of the French victims, which, fortunately, hasn’t been taken up by the press. It’s rumored that another - perhaps even more dreadful - incidence of exploitation is in progress. I hope the press will have the same attitude.

Many people have mentioned the risks of isolation or stalemate, and the issue of development. France is for now acting alone with the Malians – the Malian army is weak. Will we continue like this? No. After the emergency, we hope that we’ll be swiftly joined by others, including AFISMA. Then other forces will arrive to train the Malian troops. It’s true that we’re now leading the way, but a second phase will soon be under way.

At the diplomatic level, we’re not isolated, far from it. We have unanimous support.

A quagmire? That’s a risk. We’ll do all we can to avoid it, that’s why the objectives of the operation have been outlined. Defining an objective, such as the integrity of Mali, doesn’t mean that French troops will remain until the end of the process.

Many of you spoke about development. Underdevelopment is an absolute catastrophe which the government is working to combat. Yes, development and security are linked; yes, we must increase our efforts, because underdevelopment explains certain types of behavior – explains them but doesn’t justify them, because nothing justifies them.

Ms. Demessine approved France’s intervention. Indeed, we could not allow the terrorist groups to conquer Bamako. Our departments have for a long time been gathering information on the funding of the armed groups. There have been accusations but there’s been no confirmation. Beyond the fact that there are suspicions surrounding certain states, we know that the trafficking of drugs, weapons and hostages generates tens of millions of euros. The boundaries between banditry, terrorism and religious affirmation are unclear. The international community needs to be a lot more pro-active with respect to all these issues. Drug trafficking has gained such momentum that we have to stop it if we don’t want narco states to establish themselves everywhere. Much of the trafficking starts in South America and goes through Guinea-Bissau, toward east Africa, then up toward Europe and sometimes reaches the United States. The fight against this trafficking must be one of our major goals. We’re actively working on making AFISMA a reality.

Mr. Zocchetto paid tribute to our soldiers, commended the president’s intervention, but also underscored the risk of stalemate, and criticized the lack of consultation. But we brought the matter before the Security Council in the fall and we consulted with our allies; with respect to the military intervention, only France was consulted.

Mr. Chevènement knows this region well; he wanted to lend his group’s support to our force’s intervention. Yes, we needed to put a stop to the situation but it’s not a question of interference, it’s about assistance. He asked about the European intervention and reaffirmed that we should be aware of this country’s ethnic diversity. Lastly, I support his relevant thoughts on Algeria, which is itself currently being attacked by terrorist groups.

In Mr. Labbé’s statements I note his support and the emphasis given to the action of local authorities, many of which have links with their Malian counterparts.

Ms. Aïchi asked some somewhat surprising questions. No one here is advocating a clash of civilizations. That doctrine doesn’t make sense. We must avoid any kind of conflation and we are avoiding it. We must combat the terrorists in the sub-region but without conflating the populations of northern Mali with these groups. France’s intervention is entirely legal, Senator. It falls within the framework of resolution 2085 and Article 51 of the UN Charter. The UN Secretary-General congratulated France on the handling of this crisis and gave his “green light.” It’s a clear statement.

Mr. Husson lent his full support and hoped that Europe would help us more – we agree on this point.

Mr. Rebsamen paid tribute to our soldiers, especially to those who died in Mali and Somalia. He pointedly asked what would have happened if France hadn’t intervened. We chose to intervene, because not intervening would have exposed Mali, our hostages, France and Europe, to considerably greater risks. We have no interest in intervening, in the narrowest sense of the word, in Mali. It’s not about uranium, it’s about helping a friendly country, combating terrorism, helping a population that was in danger of being taken hostage

Speaker of the Senate, Mr. Larcher, emphatically expressed his trust in our soldiers and his support for the government’s action, and I thank him for that. Less than 5 hours after President Hollande’s decision, our soldiers were at work. Terrorism is a scourge. Do you know that Boko Haram, the name of the group operating in Nigeria, means “no to education?” Mr. Larcher asked about Ms. Ashton’s comments and thought that we were very friendly toward her. This friendliness can go hand in hand with insistence, Mr. Speaker! Of course we have political contacts with the Malian government; but there’s a time and place for everything.

The situation of our hostages…We know what the situation is in the Sahel; many of our compatriots are in danger. Beyond the solidarity that we owe the hostages and their families, you have to understand that we cannot give in, because any weakness would lead to further hostage-taking. This is true in Mali as it is elsewhere. It’s not by giving in to blackmail that we will protect the hostages.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Senate for its fundamental support as well as for the tone of this debate. The use of the term Haute assemblée is well deserved./.

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