France Comes To Former Colony's Aid To Oust Radical Islamists In Mali

French President Francois Hollande announced on Friday that France has intervened militarily in the Saharan African nation of Mali, a former French colony, to stop any further advancement of Islamist extremist forces in the north of the country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. France is rushing to the aid of the government in Mali. A group of radical Islamists has taken over the north of that African nation, which was once a French colony. French President Francois Hollande calls them terrorists who threaten the entire world, and he's sending in troops. He's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just after 6 p.m. this evening in France, President Hollande addressed the nation to confirm the rumors that had been circulating all day.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: In the name of France, I answered the Malian president's call for help, said Hollande. French forces, this afternoon, began helping Malian units fight against these terrorist elements.

For the last year, the world has watched in horror as the Islamist radical group Ansar Dine took over northern Mali. The brutal fanatics, as Hollande called them, destroyed ancient tombs in Timbuktu, then went on to institute Sharia law, cutting off limbs and doling out public lashings as thousands of citizens fled to the south.

There has been talk of an international intervention for months, but the situation came to a head this week, says Francois Heisbourg with the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

FRANCOIS HEISBOURG: It's a sudden decision prompted by a sudden change on the ground in Mali. Yesterday, the jihadis started moving towards the second-largest city in the country. The alarm bells started ringing very, very loudly this morning.

BEARDSLEY: Heisbourg says France sent special forces and combat aircraft and transport helicopters that were stationed in neighboring Chad. Hollande said the terrorist group threatens not only Mali and West Africa but Europe and the international community, as well.

HOLLANDE: (Speaking foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: Terrorists must know that France will always be there when it comes to the rights of a people who want to live in freedom and democracy, said the French president. Hollande said the military operation would last as long as necessary, but he was careful to point out that France was fighting with its African partners under the legitimacy of a U.N. Security Council resolution. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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