We are very concerned about the current situation in Mali, particularly in the north of the country, where violent extremist groups including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have taken advantage of the instability to consolidate their position. We will continue to work very closely with key international partners, especially France, to support the region in its efforts to restore political stability and security to the country.
I pay tribute to two charities in my constituency which do excellent work in Mali. May I ask the Minister to encourage the Economic Community of West African States, and in particular Senegal and Algeria, to work with what remains of the democratically elected Government in seeking a peaceful solution before military intervention is considered?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those non-governmental organisations. I entirely agree with him that the situation is very fraught, but the good news is that President Traore has come back from Paris, and there is now a Government of national unity which is truly inclusive. The most important consideration is that ECOWAS must help to secure the state institutions in Bamako and then rebuild the capacity of the Malian army before even thinking about taking any action against the rebel groups in the north of the country.
As the Minister says, the situation is extremely serious: more than half the country is now occupied by al-Qaeda-backed rebels. What steps can he take with his international counterparts to ensure that sanctions are imposed on sources of supply for those rebels, particularly in relation to arms and ammunition?
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns, especially in view of the number of former mercenaries from Libya who have found their way into the region. Obviously the region is extremely unstable. A number of different rebel groups are plying their evil trade. What is most important is for the Government of national unity to secure Bamako, to work with ECOWAS and other international organisations to build capacity, and then to think about what action can be taken against those groups in the north. In the meantime, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There has been a United Nations Security Council resolution, and we will consider, as best we can, sanctions and other measures against individuals.