Algeria hostages killed, as EU talks of 'evil' in Mali

17.01.13 @ 20:00

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Reports say several hostages were killed when the Algerian army stormed a remote gas plant in the south east of the country on Thursday (17 January).

The operation came after militants seized the facility - which housed workers from EU states as well as Japan, Norway and the US - following French air strikes on Islamic extremists in neighbouring Mali.

The Mauritanian news agency, ANI, said 34 hostages and 14 militants died, while other reports gave lower numbers.

EU foreign ministers at a snap meeting on Mali in Brussels earlier in the day declined to comment.

"The events in Algeria are too serious to allow myself to say something imprecise," French minister Laurent Fabius noted.

But for his part, Malian foreign minister Tieman Coulibaly, who attended the Brussels event, said the Mali rebels and the Algerian militants are linked.

"It's not the first time that hostages have been taken. In the last few years we've seen many hostages taken. This just proves that these obscure jihadist forces ... have permeated our whole region. It shows what their true nature is," he said.

The rebels in Mali are a mixed bag of Islamic extremists, drugs and arms traffickers and Touareg separatists.

But Coulibaly said not all Touareg tribesmen are involved.

"The Touaregs in the north are a minority within a minority and those who have taken up arms are a minority within that minority," he noted.

The EU ministers agreed to speed up the deployment of a 450-man-strong EU military training mission to Mali.

They appointed a French brigadier general, Francois Lecointre, to lead it and said that a "technical team" will go to Bamako in the "next few days" to lay the groundwork.

Fabius and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also noted that "several" EU countries said they might contribute soldiers to the French war effort, on top of earlier pledges of logistical support.

"It's not at all excluded that the Europeans will help us with combat troops, even if there are no precise offers of this type yet," Fabius told press.

"France is not alone," Ashton said.

The EU meeting saw France and its allies justify the Mali intervention in stark terms.

"Terrorism is an absolute evil," Fabius said.

"France is not defending its economic or financial interests. It's defending the Malian population, the possibility of development in Africa. It's protecting Europe and it's protecting international law," he added.

He noted that Malians have, out of gratitude, named babies after a French helicopter pilot killed at the weekend.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn said the Mali rebels are guilty of atrocities against women and children.

"Look at what's happening in north Mali, should the EU let this take place in all of Mali and tomorrow, maybe, in Niger and Mauritania? ... We can't let these extremists and terrorists do what they do and create hell on earth for people," he noted.

With press in Brussels drawing comparisons between Mali and Afghanistan in saying the rebel forces might prove impossible to defeat, Mali's Coulibaly said: "We're not just going to leave them to it because it hasn't worked elsewhere."