French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that the peace process in northern Mali is on the “right path” following the start of mixed patrols between Malian soldiers and ex-rebels.
“I think we are on a good path,” Le Drian said after meeting with Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in Bamako.
After multiple delays in implementing the 2015 peace agreement, the first mixed patrols of Malian soldiers, fighters of pro-government groups and the former Tuareg-dominated rebellion, a prelude to a unitary army, began on Thursday in Gao, the largest city in the country’s north.
The installation of the interim authorities in the North, another important part of the peace agreement, was however postponed due to a contested appointment in Kidal, a bastion of Mali’s former rebellion.
“I believe that there are positive signs of evolution,” said Le Drian, following the appointment of interim authorities heads in five regions in the north.
At the end of 2016, the French Minister of Defense was impatient with the slow pace in the implementation of the peace process and called on the Malian president to take “necessary initiatives” to accelerate it, causing tensions with Bamako.
“We have had very sustained conversations which allow me today to have an optimistic view of the situation,” noted Le Drian in the Malian capital.
“I confirmed (to the Malian president) the support of France, the permanence of our military collaboration and the need to continue the fight against terrorism,” stressed Jean-Yves Le Drian.
France has mobilized 4,000 soldiers in five countries of the Sahel, including in Mali, to fight against jihadism.
Malian jihadists were largely driven out of the country’s north by a French military intervention in early 2013. But the Islamists still carry out attacks on areas controlled by Malian, French and UN forces (Minusma).
On January 18, a suicide attack on a camp where Gao’s mixed patrols were being carried out and which was claimed by a group allied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) resulted in 80 deaths.