France vows to continue support for Mali in fight against terror

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls vowed Saturday that his government would continue to support Mali in its fight against terrorism, despite a planned withdrawal of most of its troops.

Valls, visiting Mali in the final stages of a French-led military operation to oust Al-Qaeda-linked militants from the desert north, pledged to help the former French colony build up its army to combat the continuing threat posed by rebel violence.

"France is mobilised alongside Mali in the fight against terrorism," he told reporters after he was welcomed by Malian Security Minister Sada Samake.

French troops entered Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital Bamako by the Islamists and allied Tuareg rebels.

A presidential election was held in July but militant attacks have resumed in northern Mali where extremist groups are based.

France still has 3,200 troops in Mali but wants to reduce the figure to 1,000 by the end of January.

A United Nations peacekeeping force meant to replace the French is expected to eventually reach 12,640 troops and police. At the end of July it had just over 6,000 but Nigerian and some Chadian troops have since withdrawn.

Bert Koenders, the UN special representative to Mali, told the Security Council last month that a recent escalation in rebel violence in the north of the country had been an important "wake-up call" over security.

Valls was on the third leg of a four-nation west African tour which has seen him in Senegal and Ivory Coast since Friday and concludes in Mauritania on Sunday.

Asked about progress in catching the murderers of two French radio journalists in the restive northeastern region of Kidal, Valls said the investigation "is progressing", but would not elaborate.

The minister was due to dine with Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday and hold talks with Malian Premier Oumar Tatam Ly on Sunday before flying to Mauritania.