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The 4,000 French soldiers deployed in Mali to fight Islamist rebels will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of the year, French President Francois Hollande said Thursday.
"We will start withdrawing at the end of April," he said in an interview with France 2 television. "In July, there will be no more than 2,000 soldiers in Mali. At the end of the year, there will only be 1,000 troops."
France -- which is leading a military intervention to secure northern Mali from Al-Qaeda-linked rebels -- is eager to withdraw and hand over to an African force known as AFISMA that would be transformed into a UN peacekeeping mission.
It has called for the 15-member UN Security Council to pass a resolution in April setting up the peacekeeping force, which could be in place by July.
AFISMA currently counts around 6,300 soldiers from west African countries and Chad.
Hollande also said France wanted elections in Mali by July, adding that Paris was inflexible on this.