Mali: Hollande Pledges Continued French Presence

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By Vasudevan Sridharan | February 3, 2013 4:28 PM EST

French President Francois Hollande joins hands with Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore after Traore spoke at Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali. - Reuters

French President Francois Hollande has pledged his country's presence in its former colony Mali until stability and democracy prevail in the troubled West African nation.

During his one-day visit to the country after three weeks of the French-led campaign against Islamist rebels, Hollande was hailed by Malians as the "saviour" of Mali. French and Malian forces are involved in the military operation against the al-Qaida-linked insurgents who had been controlling the northern part of the country.

Speaking in the Malian capital Bamako, Hollande promised more French aid to rebuild the country.

"There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered ... There are terrorist elements concentrated in some areas of the country, others who are dispersed. There are risks of terrorism. So, we have not yet finished our mission," said the French president.

He was accompanied by top French officials including the defence and foreign ministers. Hollande also visited the historic city of Timbuktu which was recently recaptured by the French-led forces from the Islamists.

Nearly 3,500 French troops are currently present in Mali apart from helicopters, warplanes and armoured vehicles.  

Hollande was welcomed by cheering crowds in both Timbuktu and Bamako where Malians chanted: "Thank you, France" and "Papa Hollande".  Malian residents shouted: "Vive Hollande, Vive la France," while a placard read: "Hollande our Saviour!"

Hollande reiterated that the French troops would stay in the landlocked nation "as long as necessary" but assured handover of the responsibility to African forces once the Ecowas-backed troops are deployed.

Hollande has also called for a political transition in the country and urged holding of elections in July.

Interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore was also present at the press conference addressed by Hollande. Traore thanked the French forces for restoring Mali from "barbarity and obscurantism".

Traore said Hollande is "brother to all the Malian people" and a "true friend of the whole of Africa".

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