PARIS (AP) — Mali's foreign minister is urging international cooperation to root out extremists who littered the north of his country with land mines and who pose "a global threat." He also hinted that Malians aren't ready for French troops to pull out just yet.
Tieman Hubert Coulibaly spoke in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday in Paris, where he is visiting to discuss with French authorities the 3-week-old French-led military intervention against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the vast West African nation.
In recent days, land mine explosions killed four Malian soldiers and two civilians in northern Mali.
"Those who planted those mines there are barbarians," Coulibaly said. "They are criminals, because when you plant a mine you jeopardize the life of a population for years."
He said that Mali's land mine problem shows "the large extent to which we need help."
The recent explosions also suggest that the Islamist rebels are beginning a guerrilla-type conflict from their desert retreats.
The two civilians died in an explosion from a land mine, or an improvised explosive device, on the road in northeastern Mali that links Kidal, Anefis and North Darane, the U.N. said Monday. The four soldiers were killed last week by a land mine explosion in the northeast area near Gossi. The French reported that two other land mines have been found in that vicinity, and early Monday they detonated one of the mines.
Coulibaly said his country needs a strong military force to push out extremists who held northern Mali under harsh rule for nearly a year — suggesting that French talk of handing over control of key cities such as Timbuktu in the coming days to African forces may be premature.
"There is a real need for a strong military force, air force, to destroy all the implementations around the mountains," he said. "There is an enormous amount of work to be done so that the criminal economy can no longer prosper. Chasing terrorists is not the only thing. It is also to uproot the criminal and illicit economy that has taken root in these areas. That's our challenge."
He insisted that the extremists pose "a global threat. It's not only Malian or Mali-oriented. This is a threat concerning stability and peace and the world."