French troops seize 7 tons of firearms from Mali rebels

French troops seize 7 tons of firearms from Mali rebels
French troops have seized seven tons of looted and smuggled army weapons from rebels in a raid in northeastern Mali. Three tons of hand grenades, ammunition for firearms, mortars, and anti-tank missiles were handed to the Malian army.

The arsenal was seized in the Ifoghas Mountains, where French and African troops have been tracking rebel fighters.

The weapons were sorted by French experts prior to delivery and only some of them proved to be operational, said the French Colonel Jean Frederick, AFP reports.

"Only 15-20 percent of weapons found can be recovered and used in the future for other purposes without life risk. The rest will be destroyed so they don’t pose a threat to the civilians," said Frederick, who is responsible for the provision of French troops in Mali.

The majority of these weapons were looted from government military bases and smuggled into Mali from other African countries.

According to UN reports thousands of firearms have been illegally trafficked to other African nations from Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011.

Russian president Vladimir Putin previously raised concerns about the Malian crisis directly connecting it with the military solution of the Libyan uprising.

“Upheaval in Libya, accompanied by the uncontrolled proliferation of arms, contributed to the deterioration of the situation in Mali,” Putin said at the end of January.

Reuters / Francois Rihouay

Former US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s words on the matter echoed Putin’s standpoint. During Clinton’s hearing on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee drew a line between Libya and the on-going conflict in Mali saying “…There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] have weapons from Libya."

France launched the intervention in Mali in January after the escalation of a crisis between government and Islamist insurgents who took over the north of the country a year ago. The French army succeeded in driving the Islamists out of the main northern cities.  French troops are still stationed in Mali though there have been talks of troop withdrawal after the Islamists’ were out of the country.  President Francois Hollande said on Friday that French troops will stay in Mali to fight Islamist militants at least through the end of 2013 until a legitimate government can take over. Though he added that he expected more than 4,000 French troops in Mali to pull out in late April.

France’s role in the Mali rebellion is disputed, senior editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, Jeff Steinberg, previously told RT in an interview.

“The rebel operations in northern Mali have existed for quite some time, but it was only in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya – which was promoted by France, Britain and the United States in particular – it was only after that that you had a massive flow of weapons out of Libya into the hands of the rebels, which basically took a low-intensity conflict and threw it into a much greater crisis where the rebels outgunned the Malian army,” Steinberg told RT.

Reuters / Francois Rihouay