France wins and loses

January 13, 2013 - 3:14:22 am

The Ansar Dine militant group in Mali yesterday warned Paris that French citizens in the Muslim world would be targeted after about 100 Islamists were killed in a battle for the town of Konna. The Al Qaeda-linked rebel group has been grabbing headlines since early last year as fighting raged in one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, thrusting it into a whirlwind that even threatened its rich archaeological heritage. In response to the militant group’s threat, French President Francois Hollande last evening announced tightening security across the Republic. France’s anti-terrorism alert system ‘vigipirate’ was in action amid reports that security on public transportation and other strategic spots and buildings was being tightened. 

The Islamist rebels who had taken control of a large part of northern Mali early last year were defeated by Bamako troops backed by the French air force. The Malian army said that it had fully reclaimed the town after a land and air attack. With its strategic role in helping recapture the Malian town — Hollande — often thrust into the heat of domestic politics and bilateral upheavals, has shown his prowess. 

Not only did France enjoy the African Union’s backing in wresting the town under siege by rebels, it also tried to throw its weight in another country in Africa. However, elite French troops were not so lucky in Somalia. In an attempt to free a French hostage captured by Islamists in 2009, commandos mounted an air raid on a southern Somali town. However, the botched raid claimed the life of the hostage and a French pilot, who was part of the special operation. Seventeen Islamists were also killed in the air raid. 

If Mali made the French Republic proud, it was Somalia that led to its undoing. On another front, Hollande also came under fire from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who questioned the Socialist French premier’s meeting with a Kurdish rebel. What Erdogan wanted to know from the occupant of the Elysee Palace was quite justified? It is rather strange that Hollande hobnobbed with a member of a group that has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the European Union. 

It seldom happens that a nation is hailed and walloped on different fronts on the same day, as it happened with France yesterday.

The victory of Malian troopers over Islamists in one of the most volatile regions in Africa has been hailed. However, Russia again proved to be the fifth columnist. Moscow said that the fate of any African country in a conflict should be decided by the people of the continent. However, the intricacies of international law notwithstanding, the French move seems laudable. Not only has the recapture of the town weakened the Islamists in that part of Africa, it has also brought into focus the role an important foreign colonial power can play in bringing peace to an embattled continent.