September 21, 2018 / 2:58 PM / 3 months ago

France to press Mali to implement peace deal with rebels

PARIS (Reuters) - France will press Mali’s re-elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday to move more quickly to bring into force faltering peace accords with rebels as Islamist militants keep up actions to destabilize the West African country.

FILE PHOTO: Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita speaks at his presidential inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Annie Risemberg

Bamako is struggling to contain Tuareg and Islamist violence in the north, highlighting the difficulty international partners face in restoring peace in Mali, now a launchpad for attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State across West Africa.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive out Islamist militants that had occupied the north and has since kept about 4,500 troops in the region as part of counter-terrorism operations. French officials acknowledge Paris is likely to remain in the zone for the next decade.

Peace accords from 2015 between the central government and Tuareg rebels in the north have still to be implemented and French officials have become increasingly impatient with the status quo, fearing Keita may delay further ahead of legislative elections in November and December.

“They must not wait for the elections to make the necessary decisions”, a French diplomatic source said ahead of Keita’s inauguration ceremony on Saturday which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will attend.

The U.N. Security Council in June gave the parties six months to implement the 2015 peace roadmap. The text calls for the beginning of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process, which sets a basis for demobilizing or integrating fighters into the Malian army or police.

“The time for warnings is over,” France’s representative to the Security Council said at the time, accusing leaders of some of the armed groups of deliberately blocking peace efforts and nurturing ties with Islamist militants.

The French diplomatic source said the subject of individual sanctions at the U.N. was on the table. He said Le Drian would put “respectful” pressure on the Bamako government.

Led by France, Western powers have provided funding to a regional force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania to combat jihadists. But the so-called G5 force has been hobbled by delays in disbursing the money and poor coordination between the five countries while insecurity has in particular escalated in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

“We will be able to widen and finalize the financing especially when the force has demonstrated its capacity to be effective on the ground,” the source said, adding that Paris expected seven or eight battalions to be operational by year-end.

Writing by John Irish; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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