UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- France says it is facilitating a request by Mali for a U.N. force to help defeat terror-linked Islamist rebels in the northern part of the country.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly Monday in New York that Mali had requested a U.N. mandate for the force in a Sept. 18 letter to the United Nations, adding France is "a facilitator" in the effort.
"This is a first phase -- there will be others -- and it's a positive phase," he said. "It's up to the U.N. Security Council to respond to the Malian authorities' request, so that we can envisage Mali's integrity being restored, which is essential, and the terrorists leaving."
Tuareg militant groups in northern Mali, some of which are aligned with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, declared autonomy early this year.
The Malian government and the regional bloc ECOWAS this week agreed on a possible deployment of West African troops into the country.
"France isn't on the front line, she's a facilitator," Fabius said. "What we clearly want is for Mali to be able to recapture her territory."
The French foreign affairs chief called the rebels "extremely dangerous, not only for Mali but also for all the neighboring African countries, because they're very heavily armed and have a lot of money."
They also pose a security threat for France and Europe because they're openly seeking the destabilization of Western Africa, he asserted.
"If the Security Council -- as I believe and hope -- approves the Malian authorities' request, that'll eventually make it possible to dispel these concerns -- not straightaway but eventually."
Fabius said there are no specific threats in any particular French towns or cities but overall, he said, "we're collectively under threat, like the neighboring African countries, because these terrorists, who are linked to the group AQIM, have said very clearly that all 'infidels' are their enemies."
The minister said France itself wouldn't supply any of the 3,000 troops.
"It's up to the Africans, under a United Nations mandate, to take the necessary actions. If we, who are opposed to terrorism, can help in one way or another, we'll do so," Fabius said.
Al-Qaida in Mali said last week it had kidnapped six French nationals and threatened their lives if military action is taken against it. Four of the six captives were taken Sept. 16 in northern Niger and are employed by French nuclear giant Areva. The others have been in captivity since last November.
Fabius said the hostages are "a daily concern."
"President (Francois) Hollande and I met hostages' families last week. They're extremely responsible people whose courage commands admiration," Fabius said.
"We're working on a daily basis -- I want to stress this -- and discreetly, to get the hostages back."
The same themes were sounded Tuesday in the General Assembly by Benin President Yayi Boni, who called on the international community to help eliminate the threat posed by Islamist militants in Mali.
"These terrorist movements engage in all sorts of trafficking in drugs, people and all caliber of arms," Boni said. "They are committing massive violations of the fundamental rights of citizens by imposing practices from another age.
"They are irreversibly mutilating people by amputating their upper and lower limbs as punishment."
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