KIDAL, Mali (AFP) – The head of the pan-African force fighting Islamist militants in Mali arrived in the northeastern city of Kidal on Monday to discuss security in the war-torn desert region.
Pierre Buyoya’s visit came a day after France obtained a draft resolution in the UN Security Council for an 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to take over military duties in the west African nation on July 1.
“We are in Kidal for a working visit. We will discuss security… (and) the future of African and French forces on the ground,” the chief of the 6,000-strong African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) said.
Buyoya, a former president of Burundi, was flanked by Chadian soldiers who make up about one third of the pan-African force.
Kidal is the capital of the region of the same name, a harsh desert zone which includes the Ifoghas mountains, where French and Chadian soldiers have for several weeks been engaged in armed combat with entrenched Islamist fighters.
After being chased from key northern cities under their control in January, including Kidal, Islamic insurgents have kept up a pocket of resistance in this far corner of the desert, launching sporadic guerilla attacks against troops.
On April 12, four Chadian soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing at a market in the centre of Kidal, and the regional military giant has said it will start withdrawing the bulk of its troops “within a reasonable timeframe”.
“AFISMA is going to financially support the Chadian contingent which is doing a great job,” Buyoya told the Chadian soldiers, many of whom chanted: “So we’re staying then.”
Chadian President Idriss Deby announced this weekend that his soldiers were ready to withdraw from Mali after “having accomplished their mission.”
The city had already been the scene of two suicide bombings, on February 21 and 26.