French Troops Seize Last Mali Rebel Stronghold, Paris Eyes Quick Exit



PARIS - French troops have taken control of the airport in the town of Kidal, one of the last major rebel strongholds in northern Mali.

French Armed Forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard confirmed Wednesday that French troops had landed overnight in Kidal – the third biggest city in northern Mali after Gao and Timbuktu -- and said they had taken control of the airport, Le Nouvel Observateur reports.

The French arrival in Kidal only 24 hours after securing Timbuktu is another sign that France is aiming at a lightening offensive, to avoid getting mired in Mali for years to come.

"It was always part of the plan to liberate Gao and Timbuktu very quickly," France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien on the plane taking him from Paris to a donor conference about Mali in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "Now, it's up to African countries to pick up the baton. We decided to take the necessary measures to succeed in this mission and make quick progress. But the French presence is not meant to be there for the long haul. We will be leaving quickly."

During the conference in Addis Ababa, international donors pledged 377 million euros ($455 million) for an African-led force (known as AFISMA) to help clear northern Mali of Islamist militants -- with funds coming from the United States and the European Union.

Financial and logistical support will also be lent by Japan and the UK; on Tuesday, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced that 350 British troops were to be sent to Africa to help the French-led efforts that started two weeks ago, The Guardian reports.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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