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French air power stops Mali Islamist advance

French air power stops Mali Islamist advance

Bamako: Malian troops backed by French air power pushed back Islamist rebels in the centre of the country, as African nations pledged troops on the ground, some as early today, and Britain promised technical support.

French President Francois Hollande hailed the success of the operation, but ordered tighter security at home in case of reprisal attacks from Islamic extremists.

French Mirage fighters carried out a second day of air strikes yesterday to stop the advance of columns of Islamist fighters driving south, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters.

But France suffered one casualty, a pilot killed carrying out air raids, he added.

The Islamist fighters have controlled the north of the country since last March and had been threatening to push south. But Hollande said French air power had halted their advance.

"Our foes have suffered heavy losses," he said, stressing that the French intervention had "only one goal, which is the fight against terrorism".

A statement late yesterday from Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore said 11 soldiers had died and some 60 had been wounded in the fighting.

"They fell on the field of honour at Konna," the central town recaptured from the Islamists on Friday.

Earlier, a Malian officer in the central town of Mopti, near the frontline, said dozens, possibly as many as a hundred Islamists had been killed in Konna. Residents there described the bodies of men wearing Arab clothing and turbans.

Malian troops recaptured the town just a day after it had fallen to the insurgents, who had threatened to continue their southward advance.

Human Rights Watch, citing reports from residents, said at least 10 civilians including three children had died in Konna.

Children forced by the Islamists to fight in their ranks had been wounded and possibly killed in the fighting, said HRW's Corinne Dufka.

Konna lies some 700 kilometres northeast of the capital Bamako, but was in government-controlled territory, near the demarcation line separating the Islamist-controlled north from the rest of the country.


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