French and Malian soldiers embark in Bamako en route to Gao on Dec. 31, 2013.Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
French forces operating in northern Mali killed about 40 fighters believed to be Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who were trying to regroup after being largely expelled from the vast, arid region that they had controlled for several months, Mali's defense minister said Thursday.
France staged a unilateral intervention in Mali in January 2013 to stop armed groups in the north from sweeping southwards. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defense minister, said France continued to maintain 1,000 troops in northern Mali on a counterterrorism mission.
Le Drian told France’s BFM-TV on Thursday that the fight against such groups in the Sahel, or North Africa, region “is far from finished” and stretches outside Mali.
A 2012 coup lead by Amadou Haya Sanogo created a power vacuum that rebel groups have exploited in efforts to seize territory in the north and ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure — under whose leadership Mali was widely seen as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.
After he was ousted, Toure was imprisoned and power was handed to a transitional civilian government.
Victims of rights abuses in Mali during and after the coup are beginning to see justice, a report published Thursday said, though they noted many atrocities remain unpunished in the north, which is home to Tuareg and Arab populations.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Malian Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AMDH) said in the report that the “desire to advance justice to prosecute crimes committed during the Malian crisis is clear.”
The report highlighted abuses attributed to the Malian army last year “against civilians or suspected jihadists” which had gone unpunished and uncensored.
Amnesty and other rights groups have called on Malian authorities to bring to justice all those who perpetrated abuses during the upheaval.
In the past few years, France has asserted itself on the international scene. It paved the way for Western powers to enter Libya in order to oust Muammar Gaddafi and has been at the forefront of Western countries speaking out against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Al Jazeera and wire services