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FOREIGN POLICY

France and Japan to talk joint anti-terror ops

France and Japan are to hold talks in the coming days focusing on carrying out joint counter-terrorism operations in Africa.

France and Japan to talk joint anti-terror ops
French soldiers carry the coffin of French Corporal Alexandre Van Dooren, who was killed fighting jihadists in northern Mali. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

France and Japan will discuss possible cooperation in tackling jihadist groups in Africa during a ministerial visit this week, focusing on securing borders in the troubled Sahel region, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday.

"The idea is that we can perhaps work on a joint initiative around the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso as part of the fight against cross-border threats, notably the terrorist threat," the French source said on condition of anonymity.

France's foreign and defence ministers, Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian, are travelling to Japan on Thursday for wide-ranging talks to include discussions on a "Plan of Action for Africa" which has been in the pipeline for several months.

The plan also touches on counter-piracy missions, building on their current cooperation in Djibouti with possible expansion into the Gulf of Guinea, the source said.

It also envisages greater cooperation on peacekeeping missions, sustainable development and healthcare, including reconstruction in the wake of the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.

In addition, France and Japan are expected to sign an agreement on defence industry cooperation, which will act as a base for specific tie-ups in the future.

A French delegation will also take part in the Disaster Risk Relief meeting in Sendei on Saturday, as part of the build-up to the global climate conference being hosted by Paris in December.

A strategic dialogue came into force between France and Japan in January 2014, leading to frequent high-level visits on political, security and economic issues.

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TERRORISM

‘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.