The fight with Islamist militias in northern Mali “are entering their final phase, the most difficult but we make progress every day”, Le Drian told reporters in Bamako on Friday. “We have to see it through.”
During his visit, which took him to the northern Ifogha mountains, where French, Chadian and Malian troops continue to fight Islamists, Le Drian declared that 70 per cent of the task of wiping out the jihadis had been accomplished.
The quantity and quality of weapons seized indicated that they had originally intended to make Mali a base for attacks on neighbouring countries and even Europe, he said.
Four civilians were killed on Thursday night in the Timbuktu region, which has been calm since the French-led intervention drove Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) and the radical Mujao militias out of the city.
In Bamako Le Drian met Prime Minister Diango Cissoko and interim President Dionacounda Traoré, as well as officers in charge of the west African force, Afisma.
He stressed that local leaders were doing all they could to ensure that elections take place in July, as planned, despite the conflict and sectarian divisions within the Malian population.
But they are also believed to have discussed the situation in Kidal, the town in the far north where French troops arrived after the Tuareg separatist MNLA split with the Islamists and declared their intention of working with the French.
The Malian army is still not present there and the MNLA says that it is working closely with the French, a situation that is not well viewed in Bamako.
Le Drian flew to Ouagadougou on Friday night, ready to meet Compaoré, who is the west African grouping Ecowas’s mediator on Mali, on Saturday.
Ibrahim Aziz Ouattara, the second French citizen captured in Mali, was charged in Paris on Friday and detained awaiting trial.