Macron vows to keep fighting extremism in West Africa

International

French President Emmanuel Macron is welcomed by President Alassane Ouattara upon arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday Dec. 20, 2019. Macron is in Ivory Coast for a three-day official visit. (AP Photo/Diomande Ble Blonde)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — France’s President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to boost the fight against Islamic extremism in West Africa as French troops killed 33 Islamic extremists in central Mali.

Saturday was Macron’s second day of his three-day trip to Ivory Coast and Niger that has been dominated by the growing threat posed by jihadist groups.

“We must remain determined and united to face that threat,” Macron said in a news conference in Abidjan. “We will continue the fight.”

By Macron’s side, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan announced a “historic” reform of the French-backed currency CFA Franc, established in 1945 and used by eight states in West and Central Africa.

The currency’s name will become the “eco” next year and all French officials will withdraw from its decision-making bodies, Ouattara said. In addition, the obligation for member states to keep half of their foreign reserves in France will end.

The currency will remain pegged to the euro, which guarantees its stability, Ouattara stressed.

Macron, who turned 42 on Saturday, welcomed the reform and praised the financial and economic empowerment of the region.

“I don’t belong to a generation that has known colonialism … so let’s break the ties!” he said, adding that the currency was considered by some, especially the African youth, as a post-colonial heritage.

Earlier that day, Macron announced that a French military operation killed 33 Islamic extremists in the Mopti region of central Mali on Saturday morning.

He tweeted he was “proud of our soldiers who protect us.” Two Malian gendarmes also were rescued in the operation, he said.

France has about 4,500 military personnel in West and Central Africa, much of which was ruled by France during the colonial era. The French led a military operation in 2013 to dislodge Islamic extremists from power in several major towns across Mali’s north.

In the ensuing years, the militants have regrouped and pushed further into central Mali, where Saturday morning’s operation was carried out.

On Friday evening, Macron met with French military personnel stationed in Ivory Coast, which shares a long border with volatile Mali and Burkina Faso. The visit included commandos who were involved in the operation in Mali last month during which 13 soldiers died in a helicopter collision.

Earlier Saturday, Macron and Ouattara highlighted a new training effort being launched. The International Academy to Fight Terrorism will be in charge of “training in Ivory Coast some specialized forces from across Africa,” Macron said. “Then we will collectively be better prepared for the fight against terrorism.”

On Sunday, Macron will pay tribute in Bouake to the victims of a 2004 bombing by the Ivorian air force during the civil war in the country, which killed nine French soldiers and an American civilian who had sought shelter at the French army base.

He also will pay a visit to Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou in Niamey before returning to France, where a summit with West African leaders will be held in mid-January to clarify the strategy of the French military operation in the Sahel region.

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Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to the story.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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