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Fight against terrorism/Boko Haram

Published on February 24, 2015
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to RFI

Paris, February 23, 2015


Q. – In January 2013, France intervened directly against the jihadists in northern Mali. Today, it doesn’t want to engage directly against Boko Haram. Isn’t that double standards?

THE MINISTER – The circumstances are very different. As you remember, in January 2013 the capital, Bamako, was going to fall into the terrorists’ hands. There was no longer a state in Mali and, in desperation, the transitional president, Mr Traoré, called François Hollande and told him it was necessary to intervene the following morning, otherwise the whole country would be in the terrorists’ hands, and he would be dead.

Q. – Did he really tell you that?

THE MINISTER – Yes, he told President Hollande that. In this case the circumstances are different. Boko Haram is an extremely dangerous movement but it isn’t threatening to take over the whole of Nigeria. Moreover, African countries are fortunately being spurred into action to combat Boko Haram. But in both cases, France stands alongside the Africans.

Q. – Are we moving towards a strengthening of Operation Barkhane and a reorientation of the military operation originally planned against the jihadist threat from southern Libya?

THE MINISTER – No, Operation Barkhane was set up to fight terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region. The Boko Haram threat, which is different because it relates to Nigeria, is becoming clearer, and at Niger’s request we’ve withdrawn 50 troops from Barkhane to position them in southern Niger. But Operation Barkhane is still focused on its initial destination, and there’s no question of changing its destination.

Q. – To support the future African anti-Boko Haram force, you’re proposing a vote at the United Nations and a vote by donors. What guarantee do you have that the Americans, British or Germans are going to agree to pay?

THE MINISTER – It’s always the same difficulty. What struck me on my tour was the confirmation that Boko Haram represents a huge danger because of the atrocities it carries out and the number of heavy assets it possesses. So the African Union and the African countries concerned took an excellent decision, namely to say: “we, the African countries, are going to rally together to combat Boko Haram”; that’s what we always wanted.

One of the features of France’s position is that it can help but it can’t usurp the Africans’ role. For a very long time, we’ve wanted the Africans to take control of their affairs when it comes to resolving conflicts. That’s what is happening with Boko Haram. And there must be the necessary approval, including, first and foremost, that of the African Union, which will be followed by a UN resolution in March or April giving indisputable international legitimacy and providing the financial resources. It won’t be easy, because certain countries will wonder if the operation is properly prepared and what it will cost.

France’s role, in coordination with other Security Council members – Chad and Nigeria currently have seats on it – will be to facilitate things, and we’ll try and persuade the Council’s members that there absolutely must be a resolution in the area of security and that it will have to be accompanied by humanitarian aid – in certain areas there’s a threat of famine – and development aid.


Q. – In Ndjamena, you told President Déby that France is going to argue Chad’s case at the IMF and the World Bank. The latest Chadian elections were not a model of transparency; will you be following next year’s elections closely?

THE MINISTER – As far as the economic situation is concerned, it must be recognized that Chad, under the presidency of Idriss Deby, is being extremely brave in its interventions. Many soldiers are fighting well in numerous conflicts, and they’re playing a very useful role. It’s having consequences at the human and economic levels. Chad isn’t a rich country, it has a number of resources, particularly oil, but as oil prices are falling it has fewer resources. Moreover, it has a heavy debt burden plus a huge bill for military expeditions. France would regard it as absolutely legitimate for there to be mechanisms to help it economically, and we’re going to argue for that. I’ll have the opportunity to do so very soon when I contact Mme Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF – who knows the situation well –, to ask her for economic assistance, given that we’re asking them to make huge efforts in terms of security.
At democratic level, we’re closely following all the elections, but we don’t interfere in domestic affairs.


Q. – In Yaoundé you told President Biya that President Hollande will be happy to visit Cameroon one day. But there have been distressing cases – there still are – like the Atangana case and that of Lydienne Yen-Eyoum, the French-Cameroonian woman who has been in prison for several years. Did you mention it to the Cameroonian Head of State?

THE MINISTER – I always adopt the same attitude for these distressing cases. I don’t make any big public announcements, which are pointless and can plunge the various sides into a situation of deadlock by casting doubt on this or that institution. On the other hand, whether it be the French President, the Prime Minister or I myself, whenever we visit a country, we discuss these cases and try to ensure they’re handled in a human and positive way.

On President Hollande’s visit, that’s the French President’s wish, and he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to do so. I know that President Biya – whom we’ve welcomed on an official visit to France – would be very happy to welcome the French President, and we’re going to try and find dates in President Hollande’s very busy schedule when he can visit Cameroon./.

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