French President Francois Hollande will fly to Mali on Friday night to meet the West African country’s interim president in the capital Bamako the next day, France’s Liberation newspaper reported.
Quoting unnamed sources, it said Hollande also planned to visit the fabled desert city of Timbuktu, which French and Malian forces seized back from Islamist rebels who had held the northern part of the former French colony since last year.
No comment from his office was immediately available.
Meanwhile, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday he saw no role for the Western defence alliance in Mali, but hailed allies who moved to assist the French-led operation.
“NATO as such is not engaged in the Mali operation and I don’t see a role for NATO as such in Mali,” Rasmussen said during a brief visit to Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.
He commended NATO-member France “for having taken swift and also effective action,” stressing “it was high time to stop terrorist groups from advancing in Mali.”
“I also appreciate that individual NATO allies have decided to support France in that very important mission,” Rasmussen said.
“But the U.N. Security Council has decided that there should be an African-led stabilization force and this is a reason why I don’t see a role for NATO,” he added, speaking alongside Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Grybauskaite said her Baltic state was ready to provide humanitarian aid and assist in the EU training mission in Mali, but did not elaborate.
France launched an offensive in Mali on January 11 as Islamists who had ruled the country’s north for months advanced south towards the capital Bamako, sparking fears the country could become a haven for Al-Qaeda-linked extremists and criminal gangs.
France now has 3,500 troops on the ground in the west African country, its former colony. A total of 8,000 African soldiers are expected in Mali to assist Malian forces and take over from the French soldiers.