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WAR REPORT
Algiers okays French strikes in Mali after rebel 'betrayal'
by Staff Writers
Algiers (AFP) Jan 14, 2013


French planes strike Islamist bases in Mali town of Douentza
Bamako (AFP) Jan 14, 2013 - French warplanes on Monday pounded Islamist positions in the town of Douentza in central Mali on the fourth day of an offensive against jihadists occupying the north of the country.

"Planes repeatedly bombed the Islamists' headquarters in Douentza. It was destroyed but the Islamists were not there," said a resident on condition of anonymity.

A local businessman said the place bombed was at the southern entry to the town and was the headquarters of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Islamist rebel groups occupying northern Mali.

"All the Islamists fled the town today (Monday)," he said.

A regional security source confirmed the fresh airstrikes, saying they also continued "in other areas" of the north.

On Sunday, strikes were carried out near the town, according to witnesses as the French also pounded insurgent strongholds in the key cities of Gao and Kidal.

France, working alongside the Malian army, on Friday launched the operation as the Islamists threatened to advance on Bamako, after months of hesitation over an African intervention force to help drive out the extremists.

Canada to airlift French military cargo to Mali
Ottawa (AFP) Jan 14, 2013 - Canada will send a military transport aircraft to support French and Malian troops battling Islamist rebels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday.

"While the government of Canada is not, and will not be, considering a direct Canadian military mission in Mali, Canada is prepared... to provide limited and clearly defined logistical support to assist the forces that are intervening in Mali," Harper said.

The prime minister said he had received a "specific request from the French government for heavy-lift aircraft to assist in the transport of equipment into the Malian capital of Bamako," away from the fighting.

The Royal Canadian Air Force responded by agreeing to provide a Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft to support French and Malian operations for a period of one week.

Canada will also continue to provide humanitarian aid and development assistance to the region, Harper said.

During a visit to Canada last week, African Union Chairman Thomas Boni Yayi called for NATO troops to join African Union forces in a mission to stabilize Mali following a coup last year, but Ottawa refused.

Only France went into action Friday, sending troops, attack helicopters and strike jets to bolster Malian forces. The United States and Britain have vowed to provide logistical support.

Traditionally hostile to foreign interference, Algiers has thrown its support behind operations in Mali against Islamist forces in a surprise about-turn that saw it open its skies to French warplanes.

But some observers say Algeria's change of heart followed a "betrayal" by armed rebel groups in Mali who vowed to cease hostilities last month, and represents a failure of its non-interventionist policy.

Omar Belhoucet, the editor of the popular French-language daily El Watan, on Monday said Algeria's altered position was "undeniable," after the government "did everything, rightly, to settle things in a diplomatic way."

The Algerians, he told Radio France Internationale (RFI) "today feel betrayed by the representatives of certain Malian groups" who benefited from the negotiations to reorganise.

Western diplomats in Algiers say the speed with which French military operations were launched on Friday took the government by surprise.

"But it's making the best of a bad situation," one diplomat told AFP, adding that the authorities had never completely ruled out the military option.

"The position of Algiers has evolved," said Rachid Tlemcani, a political expert for whom the decision to authorise French overflights amounted to "a form of indirect participation" in the military operation in Mali.

But he argued that the Algerians "must be extremely disappointed," because "France was playing the double-game of negotiating while preparing itself militarily."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday confirmed that Algeria had authorised the overflights of Rafale fighter jets based in France.

"We are working with the Algerians and our discussions are ongoing."

"What we have in mind is that if African troops move into the north of the country the Algerians will have to close their border," Fabius said.

Algiers, which has yet to comment on the statement, has said for months that it was intensifying its surveillance of, and military presence along its vast southern border with Mali, a difficult task given the size and nature of the terrain.

The foreign ministry said on Saturday that Mali had asked for "friendly powers" to reinforce its national capacities in fighting terrorism, and expressed its "unequivocal support" for the transitional authorities.

But there was no mention of Algeria sending troops across the border, with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries enshrined in the constitution and a hallmark of its foreign policy.

For the moment, it is the West African bloc ECOWAS that is providing the troops making up the 3,300-strong intervention force to reclaim northern Mali from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its ally MUJAO, as well as Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine.

The UN Security Council was to discuss the conflict on Monday, at the request of Paris, which seeks a speedy implementation of resolution 2085 authorising the deployment of an intervention force that was approved in December.

The West African nations contributing to the force are bristling at Algeria's resistance to swift action, according to Niger analyst Jibrin Ibrahim.

"Algeria and Mauritania have deployed their huge lobbying powers within the African Union and the UN to insist on the path of negotiations" between the different Malian factions, he said.

In that time the insurgents were able to consolidate their positions, he argued.

They have "done everything to block the role of the ECOWAS leadership. We in West Africa cannot allow Algeria and Mauritania to pursue this policy of exporting their problems to our region."

The interim Malian Prime Minister Diango Cissoko, accompanied by a top-level delegation, including Defence Minister Diaran Kone, met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers on Monday. No details on the talks have been made public.

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