World Bulletin/News Desk
French planes carried out major air strikes in northern Mali overnight, the army reports, after President François Hollande’s visit to the country Saturday. The bombardment took place near Kidal and in Tessalit region, both near the Algerian border, RFI reports.
The air strikes targeted “logistical depots and training centres” run by armed groups in the border area, spokesperson Thierry Burkhard said Sunday.
Hollande finished his visit to Mali on Saturday with a speech in the capital Bamako.
He said that French troops will stay “as long as it takes” to restore northern Mali to control by the Malian government.
Thirty aircraft, including refuelling and reconnaissance planes, were involved in the operation, he said.
Malian military sources said French and Chadian troops had clashed with members of the Ansar Dine militant group in the region around Kidal on Saturday.
French attack helicopters and transport planes carrying special forces left the city of Gao to reinforce the French and Chadian contingent stationed at the airport in Kidal.
The town of Kidal itself is under the control of the pro-autonomy MNLA Tuareg rebel group, which occupied it after Ansar Dine fighters fled six days ago.
The United States and the European Union are backing the Mali intervention. They are providing training, logistical and intelligence support, but have ruled out sending their own ground troops.
Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly welcomed the success of France's military operation but urged the former colonial power not to consider scaling back its mission.
"Faced with hardened fighters whose arsenals must be destroyed, we want this mission to continue. Especially as the aerial dimension is very important," he told France's Journal Du Dimanche newspaper.
Paris has pressed Bamako to open negotiations with the MNLA, whose uprising last year triggered a military coup in Bamako in March, as a step toward political reunification of north and south Mali.Last Mod: 03 Şubat 2013, 15:43