Correspondent Laura Lynch who is in central Mali, describes the time she’s just spent with a French army convoy on the road to Gao, Mali.
Islamists extremists have been pushed out of Gao, but there are still dangers on the road.
Lynch says the French military found a few explosive devices on the way to the city.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. In Northern Mali, the job’s not over for French and Malian troops. They successfully pushed Islamist militants and other rebels from key cities in the North, such as Timbuktu and Gao, but they’re still working to reclaim other areas where extremists are still in control. Today, French troops moved into the city of Kidal, the last Jihadist bastion in the North. CBC’s correspondent Laura Lynch is in Central Mali. Earlier, she travelled to Gao with a French military convoy.
Laura Lynch: We came out with the convoy this morning and it was actually not as big as it was yesterday and it certainly seemed to go a lot faster than it did yesterday. Now that may have been because of the fact that, on the way up, we went very, very slowly. There were concerns about roadside bombs and in fact those concerns were validated later in the day when French forces found what turned out to be three devices on the road ahead of us. They had been looking up and scouting out for it. So we had to stop for the night. We had left earlier in the day from just about here, where I am tonight, and made our way up very, very slowly and we didn’t get to Gao because of those devices. So we ended up being on a makeshift Malian Army military base and we essentially had to get out of our cars and sleep under the stars because we had no other option. The soldiers of course had their own on the road accomodations, but we weren’t quite ready for that. So it was just something that we had to do, but we sure got our alarm the next morning and it came with a loud bang and that was when the French forces safely detonated those three devices. Only after that did we get out on the road again and we made our way again, very slowly, up to Gao with no further incidents but I will tell one thing that we saw. We saw quite a big crater in the middle of the road and that crater was left by another roadside bomb that had exploded just days ago and it killed four Malian soldiers.
Werman: Yeah. So the security situation is still dicey in some parts. There is a sense of success though with Islamists pushed out of cities like Gao and that of Timbuktu, but now there are these dire warnings about what might happen. What might transpire in Mali if the French troops up and leave. So what’s the mood among the French troops right now? What kind of sense did you get this morning?
Lynch: I think that the troops are feeling pretty darn proud of themselves. They think they’ve come in there and done a really good job very quickly and managed to get rid of the Jihadists by and large in all of the places they wanted to. There still is active fighting going on through in the city of Kidal and French jets are bombing bases where they think Jihadists are hiding out for now. So for them the battle isn’t yet over and they know that there is still work to do, but there is also a desire for them not to stay too long. To be able to see other West African nations bring forces in. To be able to see the Malian Army improve so that it can actually fight because, let’s face it, a year ago when the Jihadists moved in a lot of the Malian Army just melted away and beat a retreat and didn’t stand up to them and that’s why people, a lot of people, are so concerned about the French leaving. They don’t trust the Malian Army to protect them.
Werman: Now you’ve covered other wars other, Laura. How does this conflict in Mali compare?
Lynch: Well when you look at how quickly the main part of the main phase of this battle has ended, it’s actually quite remarkable. I mean it was almost over before the reporters got there to cover it. So in that sense, it’s been very, very different. The other that for me, as a reporter, has been interesting and at times very frustrating is the difficulty in actually being able to go and cover what’s been going on. That road that I went up today has been inaccessible to almost every Western journalist for days now. We were able to get in only because we fell in with a French military convoy. So we were able to get through those checkpoints. Now we’re told by the forces that the reason they’re not letting people through is because they’re concerned about people’s welfare. Well roadside bombs maybe make that credible, but there are other concerns among journalists that perhaps the Malian Army is more interested in preventing us from seeing what human rights organizations had accused them of, which is abuses in their own right. Abuses of those who they believe are Jihadist sympathizers. So difficult in that sense to be able to cover it. I didn’t get anywhere near the front lines to see what was going on and nor did any other journalists. They got there after the fact when the so-called liberators moved into town and the crowds filled the streets cheering them on.
Werman: Laura Lynch who is in Malti in Central Mali covering the conflict there for The World and the CBC. Thanks so much, Laura.
Lynch: You’re welcome, Marco.
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