Macron says French forces 'neutralise' over 30 terrorists in Mali

AFP Abidjan, Ivory Coast Dec 21, 2019, 10.25 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Macron said in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast that 33 'terrorists' had been 'neutralised', a term a source close to the presidency said meant they had been killed.

President Emmanuel Macron said French forces had "neutralised" several dozen terrorists in Mali on Saturday, as he visited West Africa with a pledge to give new force to the battle against Islamist militants in the region.

The operation in the flashpoint city of Mopti in central Mali came just weeks after 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they were hunting down terrorists in the troubled country.

Macron said in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast that 33 "terrorists" had been "neutralised", a term a source close to the presidency said meant they had been killed.

French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by terrorists, he said.

"This considerable success shows the commitment of our forces, the support that we bring to Mali, to the region and to our own security," he said. 

"We have had losses, we also have victories this morning thanks to the commitment of our soldiers and Operation Barkhane," he said, referring to the France's military operation against Islamist militants in the Sahel. 

Last month's crash was the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades and raised fresh questions about the effectiveness of France's 4,500-member operation.

Macron arrived in Ivory Coast on Friday to celebrate Christmas with French troops but the terrorist insurgency in the region is a top item on Macron's agenda during his 48-hour stay in the region.

'Must not let threat flourish'

Away from weeks of protest strikes gripping France, Macron's personal chef travelled with him to cook dinner for around 1,000 troops at the military base in Port-Bouet, near Abidjan's airport.

"I hope we can give new depth, new commitments, a new force to this operation and win a fight that is key to the stability and security of the Sahel," the French leader told the troops.

"We will keep up the fight against terrorists. We will continue to do so with our African partners and with our European and international partners," he said. "Because if we let the threat flourish, it will impact us too."

Despite the French troop presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict that erupted in 2012 has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The leaders of five Sahel nations are due to attend a summit in Paris on January 13, when Macron said they would clarify the "political and strategic framework" of the operation against the militants.

On Sunday, Macron will pay a flying visit for talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, where terrorist attacks are frequent.

Macron spent Christmas in 2017 with troops deployed to Niger and went last year to Chad. 

In Abidjan, he said he wanted to build a new relationship between France and Ivory Coast, in particular helping youth and developing sport.