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France withdraws first batch of soldiers from Mali

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France has withdrawn its first batch of soldiers from Mali, the army said Tuesday, as it begins to pull out troops sent to battle Islamist fighters in the west African nation.

The military's chief of staff said around 100 soldiers had been withdrawn and sent to Paphos in Cyprus, where they will spend three days in a hotel before heading back to France.

They belonged to parachute units of the army that had been deployed in the Tessalit region of northeast Mali, where violent fighting against Islamists took place, said Thierry Burkhard, chief of staff spokesman.

France sent 4,000 troops to Mali in January to block an advance on the capital Bamako from the north by Islamist fighters.

The intervention has driven insurgents from most of their northern strongholds, although significant pockets of resistance remain in Gao, as well as in the fabled desert city of Timbuktu.

France has since announced it will begin pulling out soldiers and will leave just 1,000 troops in the restive country by year end, handing over to a UN-mandated African force of 6,300 in the coming weeks.

The Malian military -- poorly-paid, ill-equipped and badly-organised -- fell apart last year in the face of an uprising by ethnic Tuareg rebels who seized the vast arid north in the chaos following a March coup, before losing control to well-armed Islamists.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130409/france-withdraws-first-batch-soldiers-mali-0