BAMAKO, Mali, July 16 France and Mali signed a
new defence pact on Wednesday, an agreement that will let Paris
maintain its prominent role in a former colony whose desert
north was occupied by al Qaeda-linked rebels until they were
defeated by French troops last year.
France has sought to wind down direct involvement in former
colonies in Africa, where troops frequently intervened during
the decades after independence. But weak local armies, the
Islamist threat and a series of political crises and rebellions
have led to major French interventions in recent years.
The new pact, a defence cooperation treaty that replaces a
1985 agreement, outlines the framework for French intelligence
sharing, training and equipping of Malian troops.
French troops still tracking down Islamists in Mali are
operating under a separate operational agreement signed last
year, but the new deal ensures long-term military ties between
the two nations.
Last year, France dispatched war planes and thousands of
troops to beat back an advance by Islamist fighters who took
advantage of a coup in the capital and a rebellion by separatist
Tuareg rebels to seize Mali's desert north the year before.
Most of the Islamists fled the superior French firepower and
the French deployment in Mali has since been reduced to about
However, underscoring how the threat is now scattered across
the vast Sahara-Sahel band, France is in the process of
reorganising its presence in the region with troops in Mali
being folded into a 3,000-strong anti-Islamist force also
operating in Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
The defence agreement comes on the eve of a visit to the
region by French President Francois Hollande, who will travel to
Ivory Coast, Niger and Chad.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by