After winning adulation across its former colony for a 5-month
military offensive earlier this year that scattered al Qaeda
fighters, France is caught in a tug of war between the government in
Bamako and Tuareg MNLA rebels in the north, who are demanding some
form of autonomy.
"The democratic situation has been re-established. Now it's up to
Malians, and particularly President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, to act,"
Fabius told RMC radio.
"France doesn't support any group, but it's normal that territorial
integrity is restored. But France doesn't have to get involved in
A French official said Fabius was trying to make clear that Paris,
which does not get want to get embroiled in resolving the political
deadlock between the south and north, did not support either side
but remained committed to Mali's security.
Newly elected Keita on Wednesday launched a scathing attack on
France, demanding to know why it was preventing Mali from restoring
the state's authority in the northeastern town of Kidal, which is
held by the MNLA. He also said the international community was
forcing it to negotiate with the rebels.
Mali imploded last year when the MNLA tried to take control of the
north. Their rebellion was soon hijacked by better-armed and funded
Islamist militants, but French troops cooperated with them in
operations to rout the al Qaeda-linked fighters.
The MNLA said on Wednesday that France had a "historic
responsibility to find a solution" to its dispute with the
The desert region of Kidal in Mali's desolate northeast has produced
four rebellions since independence from France in 1960. Its
light-skinned Tuareg people say successive black African governments
in Bamako have excluded them from power.
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Mali's interim government signed an initial peace deal with Tuareg
representatives in mid-June, allowing national elections to take
place. As part of the deal, Bamako agreed to open talks over the
Tuaregs' demands for more autonomy, but those negotiations have
At a summit in Paris on Friday, France will try to persuade African
leaders that it can no longer play policeman on the continent, even
as it prepares to intervene in a new conflict in Central African
Republic, where it has warned of a risk of genocide.
The killing of two French journalists, seized in broad daylight in
Kidal on November 2, shocked France and underscored the difficulties
it has in disengaging itself from the troubled west African country.
France dispatched reinforcements to Kidal after the journalists'
deaths, but insists it will not further delay its plan to reduce its
3,200 troops in Mali to 1,000 by February, already two months later
than originally scheduled.
"France intervened and we can say it saved Mali," Fabius said. "But
it's not up to us to be the gendarme of Africa."
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)