Bamako/Dubai, Jan. 15 (Reuters): France will end its intervention in Mali only once stability has returned to the West African country, French President Francois Hollande said today, raising the prospect of a costly, drawn-out operation against al Qaida-linked rebels.
Paris has poured hundreds of soldiers into Mali and carried out air raids since Friday in the northern half of the country.
Thousands of African troops are due to take over the offensive but regional armies are scrambling to accelerate the operation ' initially not expected for months and brought forward by France's bombing campaign aimed at stopping a rebel advance on a strategic town last week.
"We have one goal. To ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory," Hollande told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, accompanying Hollande, said the offensive against the Malian rebels could take some time, and the current French level of involvement could last weeks.