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Mali Hotel Attack Strikes Home For France


And though it's happening in West Africa, the Mali attacks strikes home for France. That country, as we've heard, has historic ties with Mali. France is also recovering from last week's attack in Paris. And to discuss all of this, we're joined by France's ambassador to the United States. He's Gerard Araud. Welcome to the program.

GERARD ARAUD: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What have you learned this morning about the Mali attack?

ARAUD: You know, actually, Mali has been unstable since the independence. In the north of the country, you have the Tuareg, who have been demanding independence, their own independence, since the '60s. This traditional Tuareg movement has been joined by Islamists, by - also drug traffickers, human being traffickers, throughout a region, which is largely not controlled. That's reason why the French intervene in 2013, to drive out the terrorists. And also, afterwards, there is now a UN peacekeeping operation. So, in a sense, as I think your reporter said, it's not surprising, you know. We know that there are Islamist groups and an attack, unfortunately, in Bamako is, right now, is not a surprise. My information is exactly yours. Our special forces are intervening with the Malians, and they are taking over, floor-by-floor, the hotel.

MONTAGNE: Well, your president, Francoise Hollande has - in this last hour - has said, and I'm quoting, "Everything is being done to free hostages held at that hotel." You know, what more can be done? And do you know of any problem with what's being done now?

ARAUD: No, I don't have any information. What is important behind this horrendous incident is the need to stabilize the country. And the stabilization of the country, you know, you have to find a political compact between the South, which is 90 percent of the population. And most of the population, in a sense, is black African. And in the north, which is 10 percent of the population, but which is, maybe, 70 percent of the surface of the country, which is largely Arab populations and Tuareg populations. And these two segments of the population have been fighting for the last 50 years.

MONTAGNE: Let me - I'd like to get back to France and the attacks in Paris. But I do want to ask you just quickly, you know, as I said - it strikes homes for France. Is this attack in Mali - does it fit into a - larger attacks elsewhere?

ARAUD: By - you know, I don't know. You know, frankly, we still don't know what is this group because as I have said, you know, there is a Malian environment of violence, of civil war, where you have the addition of a civil war and a Islamist movements. So my first reaction - but I may be totally wrong - is that it's certainly more local, a local attack.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's then talk about the attacks in Paris. Has France been receiving the support it needs the U.S. from France's viewpoint?

ARAUD: Sorry.

MONTAGNE: Has France been receiving the support it needs...

ARAUD: Oh, yes.

MONTAGNE: ...From the U.S.?

ARAUD: No, no. You know, really, we have been working with our American friends. In Mali, for instance, the Americans are providing us with a lot of technical relief and intelligence. We have been side-by-side in Iraq and now in - and in Syria. And since this horrendous attack, the Americans are providing us with a lot, a lot of intelligence.

MONTAGNE: Now, French lawmakers are expected today to extend the state of emergency that's been in effect this last week and to extend it for three more months, which would allow police to do as they've been doing - go into homes, make arrests without warrants. Your government is a left government. How is this fitting into your general policy on these things?

ARAUD: You know, the problem that all democracies are facing in such a situation is to find the right balance between civil liberties and law and order. And after such an attack, you know, it's nearly unavoidable that the balance - this balance is shifting towards a law enforcement. What has been decided by the Parliament, you know, is for three months. And I do hope, as a citizen - I do hope that it won't be necessary to prolong it after three months.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you one other thing. The U.S. Congress has demanded tighter screenings for refugees. President Hollande has increased, it appears, his commitment to refugees. What about that?

ARAUD: I think it's very courageous, very dignified because, you know, we have local elections in France the first week of December. And, you know, basically, the political life now in the U.S. and the political life in Europe is not that different, you know. We have in the both sides of the Atlantic, we have a far right and a far right which is campaigning against the immigrants. So I think that's the stance of my president after these attacks and that two weeks from the elections, it's quite courageous.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

ARAUD: Please, thank you.

MONTAGNE: That is France's ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud.


And we'll just mention we're continuing to track the hostage situation in Bamako, Mali, where gunmen walked into a Radisson Blu hotel and took many hostages. We're told dozens have been freed. Some may have been killed. We'll continue to bring you the latest information as we learn it right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.