DUBAI (Reuters) - France will wrap up its intervention in Mali and pull its forces out once the West African country has returned to being stable and safe with a solid political system, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.
Hollande's statement, in response to a question on how long French forces could be deployed in Mali, suggested France could have a major role in its former colony for longer than the several weeks his government has so far indicated.
"As soon as there is an African force, in the coming days or weeks, that is backed by the international community and by Europe, France will not have a reason to stay in Mali," he told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
"We have one goal, however. 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 said.
France hit rebels with more air strikes and sent in armored cars on day five of its effort to help the Malian government quash a push south by the Islamists, as regional allies struggled to speed up deployment of their troops.
Hollande, who said the United Arab Emirates had expressed its support for France's Mali campaign, said rebel fighters could be taken prisoner in some cases but the main goal was to "destroy" them.
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark John