France reassures Mali over troop withdrawal

The French foreign minister reassured Mali yesterday that France was not planning an ‘overnight’ withdrawal of the troops it sent to liberate the west African nation's north from Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Laurent Fabius was in Bamako to discuss the pullout scheduled for the end of April with government and military figures including Premier Diango Cissoko, who vowed that deeply-divided Mali was committed to holding July elections.

Fabius said ahead of talks with interim President Dioncounda Traore restoring security is essential but restoring democratic dialogue is also essential.

France sent 4,000 troops to Mali in January to block n advance on Bamako from the north by Islamist fighters.

Paris is preparing to hand over to a UN-mandated African force of 6,300 in the coming weeks, placing a spotlight on Mali's poorly-paid, ill-equipped and badly-organised armed forces.