ADDIS ABABA, Jan. 26 — South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad and Burundi have agreed to contribute troops to the International Mission of Support to Mali where governemental forces are working together with the French troops to combat rebels in the north of the country, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru told Xinhua at the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia on Saturday.
“This pledge is significant because it comes from non West African nations and show that Africans are ready to deal with this problem,” said the Nigerian minister. It was not clear when the troops will start operations in Mali but the minister said the deployment will be immediate.
“We have agreed that the African Union should not allow any of its territories to be used by criminal gangs and terrorists to terrorize citizens,” stressed Olubenga Ashiru. “Today it is Mali, tomorrow it will be another country. This must be stopped immediately.”
Previously, only members of the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) had pledged troops to the Mali conflict. Nigeria pledged 1,200 troops, the highest number of troops among the ECOWAS countries.
“All our troops are already on the ground in Mali but some of the ECOWAS members have been facing logistical problems delivering their troops. The regional plan we are working on will ensure that all the troops pledged be in Mali in the next two weeks,” he said.
ECOWAS has also instructed Mali’s neighbors Algeria, Mauritania and Libya to close their borders with the country to prevent the rebels from escaping to those territories.
France, with 2,300 troops already stationed in Mali, has already launched air and ground attacks in the country. Its efforts are expected to be bolstered by the arrival of additional African troops.
The rebels had overrun the Malian army since January last year when the conflict started sparked by call for political autonomy of the northern Mali region of Azawad, an area inhabited by the Tuareg people.
The rebels took control of that region in April last year and advanced to take over several other cities including the worldly known cultural site of Timbuktu. The conflict worsened when the country’s President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted in a coup d’etat by mutinous soldiers in last March.
The United Nations has authorized the deployment of a 3,300- strong force under the auspices of ECOWAS. But according to the African Union’s peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, that force needs to be strengthened to better respond to the challenges facing the country.
The commissioner is expected to plead for a stronger force at the 20th AU Summit at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa this weekend.