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Fight against terrorism/Mali/Paris attacks

Published on November 24, 2015
Press conference given by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, President of the Paris Climate Conference (excerpts)¹

Pretoria, November 21, 2015

Q – Minister, if I may, I was waiting for colleagues to ask about COP21 because I know that’s your primary business, but the reason I’m asking is [inaudible]… To move on and ask about the security situation both in Paris and of course in Bamako: do you see any linkage between the two events, in Mali and in France, the terrorism in these two countries?

THE MINISTER – Unfortunately, any country in the world can be attacked by terrorists today and I would say that probably two of the main challenges of the 21st century are fighting against terrorism and fighting against climate change, against destruction, because, as you know, there are terrorist groups in several countries, and a few days ago terrorism struck in Egypt – where the victims were Russian –, as well as in Lebanon, Paris, Bamako, and today there are alerts in Brussels.

So far as Bamako is concerned, fortunately there are no victims among French residents and I want to express my condolences to the Malian people and to the families of the victims. In the hotel which was attacked, there were victims of different nationalities, including Russians, Chinese and many other nationalities. France is obviously a very good friend of Mali, but in this case it was obvious that Mali was targeted and President Keita of Mali has decided to declare a state of emergency. This issue can only be addressed by international cooperation.

As you know, I have said that an international resolution on combating terrorism was adopted yesterday on the proposal of France and unanimously adopted by the Security Council; it covers exchange of information – intelligence, I mean, combating terrorist financing and ensuring coordination in all sorts of areas with great determination. It is impossible to negotiate with these people, these terrorists, because dialogue with them is impossible as all they are concerned with is killing all those who do not accept their domination, and this is of course unacceptable. As President Hollande was unable to attend the G20 meeting last week and asked me to be there, I was in Antalya in Turkey, and part of the discussion among the 20 leaders of attending countries focused on terrorism and everybody said the same thing: all of us are concerned, we have to cooperate more closely and terrorism is one of the key problems of this century.

Q – If we understand correctly, the aim of France initially was to militarily control northern Mali and follow it with Operation Barkhane. (…) Should the counter-terrorism strategy not be reviewed?

THE MINISTER – No, you must bear in mind, surely you do, that when we intervened it was in January 2013 and the whole territory of Mali was about to be seized by the terrorists at that time. I remember, it was on a Monday, and the then President Dioncounda Traoré called the French President and said: “Well, Mr President, I’ve been informed that some terrorists groups are heading for Bamako and that France is the only country helping militarily in this sector. I beg you to intervene, because if you don’t intervene tomorrow, not only will I be dead but Mali will be overrun by terrorism.”

So the French President decided to intervene. This intervention was efficient, very efficient, because within a year we were able to strike the terrorists, push them back further into northern Mali, re-establish legal authority, there were legislative and presidential elections, development was boosted and, afterwards, a peace was established and accepted by the different factions under the mediation of Algeria a few months ago. But it does not mean that every terrorist has been eliminated and, unfortunately, it’s because they have been weakened that they react by conducting spectacular attacks, as was probably the case with the tragic attack in Bamako, which was claimed by two related groups of terrorists. And it means that our strategy must be pursued: we have soldiers in the context of Operation Barkhane, which is designed to intervene in different countries and, for instance, yesterday Malian forces reacted, but we came to their assistance.

However, it’s a long fight for obvious reasons, and even though we have prevented terrorists from overrunning and taking control of Mali, and their forces from increasing, there are still groups who are recruiting and continuing to act in such an inhuman way. (…)

Q – During the meeting that you had with President Jacob Zuma, did you discuss the different strategies on how France can help to restore peace and stability in the different regions of Africa?

THE MINISTER – Now, in Africa, we’ve discussed this many times with South African friends and, naturally, the main idea is that Africa’s problems must be resolved first on the basis of decisions made by our African friends, the EU and the different international groups, but France is at their disposal to help them economically, militarily, in any area. And I remember perfectly that President Zuma, in one of his speeches a few months ago, said that France was welcome because it has understood that decisions naturally belong to Africans, but that we can help – not only us, France, but also the Europeans –, and it’s going that way. And I would say that we are progressing at exactly the same pace. (…)

Q – My question is connected with your previous answer on Mali, in which you mentioned two terrorist groups?

THE MINISTER – It’s unclear; one group is the one which is “chaired”, if I may say, by someone called Mokhtar Belmokhtar, but they are related to al-Qaeda in Mali, but the attack was claimed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s organization, but this has to be clarified. (…)

Q – The issue of borders, passport-free borders throughout Europe, that has come up now: what is France’s position? Is the Schengen Agreement to be amended?

THE MINISTER – Well, France’s position is that the Schengen Agreement is a good agreement, but that it has to be implemented, and in a very precise way. The idea of Schengen is to have common borders so that common citizens can then circulate without being controlled, but it can work only if the external frontier of Europe is perfectly controlled. And it is not the case because, generally, there are some dramatic, tragic exceptions.

Therefore, we have to reinforce the different elements and, as far as France is concerned, and because of the attacks against us, we have decided to reinstate these controls, which are in force at present; this is done under the Schengen Agreement, which states that, at special times, the country can re-establish such controls if necessary, and we felt that it was necessary for France to re-establish these controls for the time being.

Q – Controls have been raised in Europe, and with the attacks in Mali will France enhance its help to Mali?

THE MINISTER – Yes, we have already done that, and we are helping to train Malian forces, and obviously the initial response must come from the country’s national forces, but whenever we can help, we do, naturally, yes, for sure. (…)./.

¹M. Fabius spoke in English.

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