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France to return sovereignty to Mali in ‘coming days’

Mali's sovereignty over almost all of its territory will be restored within "a few days", French President Francois Hollande promised as French troops prepare to pull out.

France to return sovereignty to Mali in 'coming days'
FIle photo: AFP

The announcement came as Paris scrambled on Wednesday to verify a claim by Al-Qaeda's north African branch that it had executed a French hostage in retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali.

"In the last phase where we are, almost the entire territory will return to Mali's sovereignty in a few days," Hollande said during a dinner with representatives of the Jewish community in France.

Hollande spoke shortly after his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament that French troops would begin pulling out of troubled Mali "from the end of April". 

Ayrault said a meeting next Monday between lawmakers in France's National Assembly and Senate would assess the involvement of French troops to help flush out Islamist rebels in the west African country "even if our troops will begin coming home from the end of April".

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hailed France's military intervention in Mali in a phone call with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, thanking Paris for its "active leadership", officials said.

France sent troops to Mali on January 11 to prevent Islamists in the north from pushing south to the capital Bamako. 

After initially hesitating, the United States has backed the French-led action with logistical support, sending transport planes, surveillance drones and refueling tankers to boost the campaign.

However France's actions have made its nationals targets for Islamist militants in the region. 

A man claiming to be a spokesman for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told Mauritania's ANI news agency late Tuesday that "spy" Philippe Verdon had been executed in Mali on March 10 "in response to France's intervention in northern Mali".

"The French President Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages," the spokesman warned.

The French foreign ministry said it was trying to verify the report. "We can't say at the moment if it is credible," said a spokesman.

Verdon's father Jean-Pierre Verdon said he feared the worst. "I'm not under any illusion, but I will wait for confirmation," he told AFP.

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WAR

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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