News / Africa

French Army Marks Bastille Day in Mali

General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin, force commander of Operation Serval, reviews troops in Bamako, Mali, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)
General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin, force commander of Operation Serval, reviews troops in Bamako, Mali, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)
Ivan Broadhead
France’s national day celebration, Bastille Day, was observed in Mali with a parade by French forces Sunday, mirroring the main ceremony in Paris. Stability in the war-torn West African state is improving as French troops deployed on Operation Serval continue to mop up insurgent groups in the north. Speaking to VOA in a rare interview, the commander of French forces, General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin, expressed his optimism about this month’s elections in Mali.  

At Bamako air base, French troops gave a somber rendition of their national anthem "La Marseillaise"  during their Bastille Day parade - a ceremony that commemorates the emergence of the modern state that grew from the chaos of the French revolution in 1789.

Such historical resonances are not likely to be lost on those senior Malian army officers present. The former French colony saw its government overthrown 16 months ago. A near six-month state of emergency was suspended only last week in anticipation of presidential and legislative elections July 28.

General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin is commanding officer of Operation Serval. The mission by France - at the request of Mali's government - to restore stability and contain Islamist and other insurgents in northern Mali, has been a broad success, with just a handful of French fatalities.   

Addressing concerns that the international community is rushing Mali into elections for which it remains ill-prepared, de Saint-Quentin said he is optimistic a functional new government will emerge.

The general said he has no reason to believe otherwise.  He said France's efforts in Mali have required some sacrifices, but a consequence is that the elections are actually taking place.  He noted that just six months ago when Operation Serval began, two-thirds of Mali had been overrun by terrorists.

French troops, part of the 3,200-strong Operation Serval contingent in Mali, participate in a Bastille Day parade in the West African nation's capital, Bamako, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)French troops, part of the 3,200-strong Operation Serval contingent in Mali, participate in a Bastille Day parade in the West African nation's capital, Bamako, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)
x
French troops, part of the 3,200-strong Operation Serval contingent in Mali, participate in a Bastille Day parade in the West African nation's capital, Bamako, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)
French troops, part of the 3,200-strong Operation Serval contingent in Mali, participate in a Bastille Day parade in the West African nation's capital, Bamako, July 14, 2013. (I. Broadhead/VOA)
A low voter turnout could threaten the credibility of the elections. More than 300,000 Malians are believed to remain displaced by the recent turmoil. Voter registration is also hindered by Mali’s large size and the complexities of introducing a biometric polling system in one of the world’s least developed nations.

However, security is improving and Islamist rebels have been broadly routed by the French, with others fleeing to southern Libya. European forces are now training the Malian army to resume full defense and security duties. General de Saint-Quentin does not preclude targeted French military support if stability is compromised during the elections. 

He said judging by the number of voter registrations, Malians are eager to go the the polls.  The general expressed hope the elections take place peacefully, noting there have been no terrorist attacks for some time, and that Malian forces have a plan in place to maintain security.  He said France is ready to help if Malian forces need any assistance.

Ramping up its stabilization mission (MINUSMA), the United Nations is in the process of deploying 12,600 peacekeepers to Mali, including a significant Chinese contingent. At the same time, Paris intends to reduce its force of 3,200 combat troops to around 1,000 by year-end. France now has a new role to play, observed French ambassador Gilles Huberson.  

He said France was there to help in January, and will be there again to help with redevelopment, if Mali wishes.  The ambassador says this is the next stage, and Paris has decided the provision of French aid will be entirely transparent and open to scrutiny.

Speaking in Geneva earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters the situation in Mali is of grave concern. 

“It is vital these elections be credible and peaceful, with an outcome respected by all Malians," he said.

French soldiers stand in an armored vehicle during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2013.French soldiers stand in an armored vehicle during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2013.
x
French soldiers stand in an armored vehicle during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2013.
French soldiers stand in an armored vehicle during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2013.
Ban was among the guests of honor of French President Francois Hollande at the main Bastille Day celebration in Paris Sunday, as was Dioncounda Traoré, who, until July 28 at least, remains Mali’s interim president.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs