MOSCOW, January 25 (RIA Novosti) – President Vladimir Putin met with members of the Russian Security Council on Friday to discuss a variety of domestic and international issues, including the escalating conflict in Mali, where the French-led offensive against radical Islamists entered its third week.
“In the context of [Russia’s] international affairs, the participants of the meeting exchanged opinions on the situation around Mali,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia, which has a number of economic interests in Mali and supports a UN-authorized foreign military operation in the country, is sending presidential special envoy on cooperation with African countries, Mikhail Margelov, to attend an African Union summit in Ethiopia opening on Sunday.
West African nations have set out plans to deploy 3,300 troops to help Mali retake its Islamist-occupied north and urged other UN members to provide financial and humanitarian aid to the conflict-torn country.
Mali, a French colony until 1960, has been in turmoil since last March’s military coup, which triggered an uprising of the separatist Tuareg tribes that seized control of the country’s south.
The Tuaregs were soon suppressed by the better armed al-Qaeda affiliates, who overtook control of the northern region, imposing Sharia law and destroying historical heritage sites in Timbuktu. They later started a southward advance.
The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously voted in December to give the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) an initial one-year mandate.
More than 2,000 Chadian soldiers and 500 troops from Niger are being deployed in Niger, near the Mali border, as part of the UN-mandated African force.
France deployed its own military contingent on January 10 to aid Mali’s government, whose army had been retreating before the attack of armed groups with ties to Al-Qaida. The French contingent on the ground now totals 2,200 troops.
The French intervention has so far allowed Mali’s government to recapture the strategic towns of Konna, Diabaly and Douentza in the country’s central region, and to slow the rebels’ advance on key regions in the south of the country.