22nd Oct 2016

EU should arm Mali soldiers, French general says

  • Equipping the Malian army will cost millions, Lecointre (l) says (Photo: European External Action Service)

The head of the EU training mission to Mali (EUTM) says the EU should run a parallel programme to better equip and arm Malian troops.

“The European Union needs to invest today in the equipping of the Malian army and not just in its training,” said French General Francois Lecointre on Wednesday (20 February), reports Reuters.

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Lecointre, who leads the 500-strong EU training mission, said Mali’s army needs new uniforms, vehicles, modern communication equipment, and weapons.

"I know the Malian state is poor, but the Malian army is more than poor,” said the general at a press conference in Mali's capital Bamako.

The general said the troops are unable to face down on their own Taureg rebels and Islamic jihadists in the north of the country.

The French-led offensive in January helped the Malian army retake most of the northern territory and drove the rebels into the remote mountainous regions on the Algerian border.

The EUTM’s 15-month mandate aims to give the Malian forces a fighting chance.

The training mission is mostly made up of German instructors, but also has French, British, Polish and Irish personnel. The mission will train the army in command and control and logistics and was formally launched last week. It also aims to give lessons in human rights.

Mali troops - torture and execution

The EU intervention comes as some villagers are falling victims to government soldier brutality.

EU foreign ministers have promised that the EUTM will target war ethics and humanitarian standards in the Malian force.

But in the meantime, reports have emerged that Malian soldiers are attacking members of the Peuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups in the Timbuktu, Douentza, Gao, Sevare, Boni and Konna areas, which were liberated by French air and ground strikes in recent weeks.

Around 22,000 civilians have fled from the region. Most are ethnic Tuareg and Arabs afraid of being caught up in the cross-fire. Some villages are now entirely empty.

The ones who stay behind live in fear of being accused of aiding or fighting with the Islamic groups.

The New-York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, documented the summary execution of at least 13 men and enforced disappearance of five others by government soldiers from Sevare and in Konna in January.

On Wednesday, it cited reports that government soldiers tortured two men, summarily executed two, and forcibly disappeared at least six others.

The alleged crimes took place in a small village south of Boni and in Douentza on 9 February and 14 February.

Meanwhile, Malian soldiers near the outskirts of Boni abducted two young men they accused of fighting alongside an armed Islamist group. The men were driven a few hundred meters outside the village and shot, say witnesses.

In Timbuktu, witnesses say Malian soldiers grabbed four Arab men and a Songhai man and drove them away in a truck. A woman said the Songhai man spoke out against the abduction and was then himself thrown into the truck.

“When he saw him [the Arab man] being detained, he said, ‘No…he was never involved with those people, leave him'," the woman told Human Rights Watch.

The men are feared dead.

“The Malian government needs to act now to put a stop to these abuses by their soldiers and appropriately punish those responsible,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at the NGO.

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