French troops hand over Mali rebel weapons

French forces in Mali on Saturday began handing over to government troops seven tonnes of weapons seized from former jihadist bases in the northeastern Ifoghas mountains.

French troops hand over Mali rebel weapons
French troops in Mali. File photo: AFP

The Mali army took delivery of a first batch of around three tonnes in the main French military base in Gao, the largest city in the northern half of the country which Islamist groups occupied for nine months.

"Only 15 to 20 percent of what has been found is being handed over and can be safely reused," a lieutenant-colonel from France's engineering corps told AFP in Gao.

"The rest is destroyed on the spot to avoid exposing the civilian population to accidents," he said.

According to French military sources, a total of seven tonnes of weapons recovered from caches during operations by French and Chadian forces in recent weeks will be handed back to Mali.

France launched a surprise military intervention on January 11th to help the Malin government wrest the north of the country back from Al Qaeda-linked groups that had controlled it since April 2012.

Jihadist groups quickly pulled out of the main cities in the north and regrouped in their remote mountain bastions near the Algerian border.

Rebels took over Mali's northern half virtually unopposed a year ago, seizing Malian army bases and equipment in the process.

The demise of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi in late 2011 had also scattered his considerable arsenal across the restive Sahel region.

French military sources said most of the equipment handed over on Saturday consists of ammunition, mortar shells, grenades and rockets looted from Malian army bases.

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‘Terrorists’ attack French soldiers in troubled Mali

French soldiers operating in troubled northern Mali were targeted by "terrorists" in an ambush on Sunday, the third attack in the country in just days.

'Terrorists' attack French soldiers in troubled Mali
Smoke and flames ascend from an army armoured vehicle in Gao, northwestern Mali, following an explosion on Sunday. Photo: STRINGER / AFP
The ambush underscores the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to go to the polls on July 29th.
A spokesman for the French military said there were no deaths among the French troops but it was not known if there were other casualties in the attack, which took place in the restive Gao region.
“French soldiers of the Barkhane military operation were ambushed by terrorists” near the town of Bourem, a Western military source told AFP, referring to the French mission in the country. 
A Malian military source confirmed the incident, which came two days after a deadly attack on the Mali headquarters of a five-nation regional force known as G5 Sahel.
Fatouma Wangara, a resident of Gao, said the French convoy was clearly targeted by a suicide car bomb.
“An armoured vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up,” she said.
Another resident told AFP that the area around the ambush had been sealed off by French soldiers.
The attack came as over 40 African heads of state are meeting for an African Union summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott with security high on the agenda.
'Hit the heart' of regional security
On Friday, a suicide attack on the headquarters of the regional Sahel force known as G5 killed two soldiers and a civilian in the Malian town of Savare. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday's bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar. And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day AU summit, warned earlier that security failings were hampering the work of the Sahel force. He said Friday's attack “hit the heart” of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help.
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — but has faced funding problems. It operates alongside France's 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north. The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.  But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.