William Hague arrives in Mali for talks


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The Independent Online

The Foreign Secretary William Hague today arrived in Mali for talks with military commanders and local politicians, just weeks after a French force routed Islamist rebels from strongholds in the north of the country.

Mr Hague was due to meet the north African country's president Dioncounda Traore and prime minister Django Cissoko, as well as the commander of the African-led Afisma intervention force and the deputy commander of the EU training mission to the Malian armed forces.

His visit came as France said it was "probable" that its forces had killed a senior al Qaida leader in northern Mali.

Admiral Edouard Guillaud, the head of France's joint chiefs of staff, said that claims that French and Chadian troops had killed Abou Zeid, leader of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), could not be confirmed because "we haven't recovered the body".

Chadian forces also said on Saturday they had killed militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, believed to be the mastermind of the gas plant siege in neighbouring Algeria in January.

Britain is contributing 40 military advisers to the EU mission to carry out infantry and artillery training with the Malian armed forces, and has also offered up to 200 personnel to train troops from neighbouring African countries for a military stabilisation force in the country.

During his visit, Mr Hague will speak to some of the African troops transported to Mali by an RAF C17 transport plane and will meet some of the UK military personnel supporting the aircraft.

Speaking on his arrival in the Malian capital Bamako, Mr Hague said: "My visit, the first by a British Foreign Secretary, underlines the UK's strong commitment to work with international partners to support Mali and countries in the region on countering terrorism and restoring security in the country.

"Mali is at the heart of a range of complex political, security and development challenges that have the potential to affect the wider region. It is vital that we work together to tackle these challenges. I look forward to discussing the Malian Government's plans to implement their road map towards elections and the restoration of full democratic rule. A more inclusive political process is critical for longer-term stability in Mali. The UK stands with the people of Mali as they seek to secure their country, re-build their livelihoods and resolve long-standing grievances."

France last week said it was extending its mission in Mali until at least July as Islamic extremists there have put up a tougher fight than expected.