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POLITICS

France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

France and its allies in the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation in Mali on Thursday announced a "coordinated withdrawal" of their forces because of "multiple obstructions" by its ruling military junta.

France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali
France will begin to withdraw its soldiers from Mali, after almost a decade in the country. Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP

In a joint statement, Paris as well as other EU nations and Canada vowed to pursue “joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea”.

READ ALSO Explained: Why France is in Mali?

The decision applies to both France’s Barkhane force in the Sahel and the Takuba European force that Paris had been trying to forge along with its allies.

“The political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” the statement said.

The allies therefore “decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory.”

The announcement was made as President Emmanuel Macron is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a two-day EU-Africa summit, following a 9am press conference at the Elysee on the “engagement of France in the Sahel”.

The Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for France. Of the 53 soldiers killed serving in its Barkhane mission in West Africa, 48 of them died in Mali.

France initially deployed troops against jihadists in Mali in 2013 but the insurgency was never fully quelled, and now new fears have emerged of a jihadist push to the Gulf of Guinea.

Even after the pull-out from Mali, however, the allies vowed to remain engaged in fighting terror in other countries including Niger.

“They agreed nonetheless to continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea,” the statement said.

“They have begun political and military consultations with them with the aim to set out the terms for this shared action by June 2022.”

The announcement of the withdrawal came at a critical time for Macron, just days ahead of a long-awaited declaration from the president that he will stand for a new term in April elections.

It also coincided with Macron seeking to take a lead role in international diplomacy as he presses Russia to de-escalate in the standoff over Ukraine.

Especially with the French elections looming, Macron’s priority is to ensure that any withdrawal does not invite comparisons with the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan last year.

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Macron on Wednesday prepared the ground for the announcement with a dinner bringing together the leaders of France’s key allies in the Sahel region – Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

Officials from Mali and Burkina Faso, which also recently experienced a coup, were not invited to the meeting.

There are a total of 25,000 foreign troops currently deployed in the Sahel region.

They include around 4,300 French soldiers, which under a reduction announced last year are due to fall to around 2,500 in 2023 from a peak of 5,400.

Other forces deployed in Mali are the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA established in 2013 and the EUTM Mali, an EU military training mission that aims to improve the Malian military’s capacity in fighting terrorists.

Some 2,400 French soldiers are deployed in Mali as part of the Barkhane operation as well as the EU Takuba force set up in 2020, which was intended to increase in numbers as French deployment was scaled back.

According to a French source, who asked not to be identified by name, even after the departure France will for a period provide MINUSMA and EUTM with air support and medical back-up.

But Paris’ withdrawal could set the stage for other European powers like Britain or Germany to abandon their roles in the multinational missions.

“The departure of Barkhane and Takuba creates a void,” Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said Wednesday.

In the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea, “national armies will have to deal with problems on our national territories, and that’s our philosophy”, he told broadcasters RFI and France 24.

Relations between France and Mali have plunged to new lows after the junta led by strongman Assimi Goita refused to stick to a calendar to a return to civilian rule.

The West also accuses Mali of using the services of the hugely controversial Russian mercenary group Wagner to shore up its position, a move that gives Moscow a new foothold in the region.

“It is an inglorious end to an armed intervention that began in euphoria and which ends, nine years later, against a backdrop of crisis between Mali and France,” commented the Le Monde daily.

Member comments

  1. France knows when its time to leave, staying around when your not welcome is never helpful. This withdrawal can be seen as a clear break from military deployments and a return of French soldiers to their families.

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POLICE

France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.

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