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France calls for peace talks in Mali

France called for peace talks between Mali's government and "legitimate representatives" from the north, after French troops took up positions at Kidal, the last city held by Islamist forces.

France calls for peace talks in Mali
A handout photo shows a French soldier standing on a armoured vehicle at the Timbuktu airport. Photo: AFP /ECPAD/ Arnaud Roine

"This political process now has to advance concretely," French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Wednesday.

He called for talks with the legitimate representatives of the northern peoples and "non-terrorist armed groups" that recognise the integrity of Mali.

"Only a north-south dialogue will prepare the ground for the Malian state to return to the north of the country," he said.

The United States also called for Malians to refrain from revenge attacks on Tuaregs or other ethnic minorities.

French troops arrived at Kidal airport in the early hours of Wednesday, just days after the capture of Gao and Timbuktu and after a lightning push north, which Paris hopes now to wind down with a handover to African forces.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday the troops at Kidal had been unable to leave the airport there because of a sandstorm.

But a spokesman for the newly formed Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), which on Monday announced it had taken control of the town, said its leader was speaking to the French there.

The MIA says it has split from the home-grown Islamist group Ansar Dine ("Defenders of the Faith"), that it rejects "extremism and terrorism" and wants to find a peaceful solution to Mali's crisis.

On Wednesday, the group appealed to the international community to prevent the deployment of Malian and West African troops in the Kidal region before a political solution had been found.

Kidal lies 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako and until recently was controlled by the Islamists of Ansar Dine.

Ansar Dine and two other Islamist groups took advantage of the chaos following a military coup in Bamako last March to seize the north, imposing a brutal form of Islamic law.

Offenders suffered whippings, amputations and in some cases were executed while Islamists also destroyed sacred shrines they considered idolatrous in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

France swept to Mali's aid on January 11 after an Islamist advance south towards Bamako sparked fears the whole country could become a haven for terrorists. They now have 3,500 troops on the ground.

 

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French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.

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