France proposes 1,000 permanent troops in Mali

The French government has announced their intention to leave 1,000 troops on the ground in Mali after pulling out most of the 4,000 military members who have been stationed in the country for three months.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed speculation Friday that France will attempt to station 1,000 soldiers in Mali permanently. His comments, which came during a trip to Mali’s capital of Bamako, reiterated the details outlined to the United Nations weeks ago, proposing a French peace-keeping force remain in the country to combat Islamic fundamentalists.

Fabius also repeated France’s intention to reduce the 4,000 military members on the ground in the African nation by the end of April.

"France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men which would be permanent, based in Mali, and equipped to fight terrorism," Fabius said during his one-day visit to Bamanko.

Last week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed deploying 11,200 UN troops and a police force of 1,440 once French combat ends there.

During a press conference Friday, Fabius urged Mali leaders to hold firm on the date of the presidential election, which is scheduled for July despite reported doubts from other UN countries.

“The desire to hold the election by the given date is unanimous, and that date is in the month of July,” he said. “It is best that the elections are held. Our Malian partners say they want that and it is possible. The target is July and everything is being done to meet that deadline.”

Reports indicate that parts of Mali remain under fundamentalist control but questions remain over France’s true intentions for the region. Before Fabius’ arrival, Moussa Sinko Coulibay, Mali’s minister in charge of organizing the election, openly questioned how the thousands of displaced Malians, who are living in refugee camps in four neighboring countries, would be able to vote.

Robert Harnis, a freelance journalist covering Mali, believes that France will maintain its presence in the African country to preserve its influence in the region.

From the French point of view, West Africa is a vital area in which they have had an interest when they had an empire and after General de Gaulle gave the West African countries their independence, France has retained its influence in the area and wants to continue to retain its influence there, ” he told RT.