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Forces in 'large-scale' operation against Mali extremists

French, UN and Malian forces were engaged in a major operation aimed at preventing a resurgence of Islamist rebels in Mali, the French military said Thursday. "We have engaged, with the Malian army and (UN mission) MINUSMA, in a large-scale operation" in the so-called Niger Loop, an area hugging a curve of the Niger River between Timbuktu and Gao, French general staff spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said. "It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together," Jaron said.

Jihadists cowed but not beaten in Gao

As patrols are stepped up against the jihadists who killed a Malian soldier in the northern city of Gao, fear stalks the streets for residents living under the watch of extremists. Bintou Yattara with her three children tight by her side stood in front of a house which still bore the scars of the huge shell that almost killed them all. "We heard something crash and there was a lot of dust, but we didn't know it had hit the house," she said. It was only when they ran out of their home to escape the cloud of dirt that had risen up that Yattara realised what had happened.

Gunmen attack Malian soldiers in rebel stronghold

The Malian army came under attack Sunday from gunmen in the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal, the regional governor told AFP. "As I speak a lot of shots are being fired in Kidal. Armed men are shooting and the Malian soldiers have retaliated," Adama Kamissoko told AFP by telephone from the city. sd/ft/gd

Ex-PM Keita ahead in Mali election: unofficial survey

Preliminary results collated by journalists in polling stations gave a clear early lead to former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali's presidential elections, sparking celebrations among his supporters early Monday. The unofficial projections, based on the accounts of reporters watching counts across the country, suggest that 69-year-old Keita, known universally as IBK, could even cause an upset and win the first round outright.

French general says EU Mali mission should be extended

By Adrian Croft BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The French commander of a European Union mission to train Mali's army, routed by rebels last year, said on Wednesday he believed the mission should be expanded and go on for at least a year longer than planned. The EU trainers, dispatched to Mali in the wake of a French-led military intervention in January that drove al Qaeda-allied Islamist insurgents out of the main northern towns, face a big challenge in turning Mali's rag-tag army into a capable force.

Malian army in better shape than 6 months ago

The Malian army is better placed to deal with its security challenges today than at the start of the year but an EU military training mission still needs to be extended, its French commander said Wednesday. The army's "condition is better than six months ago", when former colonial power France swept to its aid to help drive out Islamist fighters who had occupied the north of the country, General Francois Lecointre said in Brussels.

African troops passing baton to UN peacekeepers

The African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) -- the west-African and Chadian force being replaced by UN peacekeepers on Monday -- was set up by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It was established under a UN resolution to help the government regain control of northern Mali after the territory was occupied last year by armed Islamist groups who committed atrocities against the local population. AFISMA, led by Nigerian general Shehu Abdulkadir, is made up of more than 6,000 men.

France's first lady visits Mali's war-torn north

France's first lady Valerie Trierweiler began a tour of Mali on Thursday with a visit to Gao, one of several northern cities liberated by a French-led military operation against an Islamist occupation. President Francois Hollande's partner, on a 48-hour trip as "part of a mission for children and women", highlighted the role of female soldiers in securing the north for the former French colony as part of Operation Serval.

Malian army "managing misery", not received funds-French colonel

PARIS (Reuters) - The Malian army remains poor, corrupt and barely functional months after the launch of a European training mission to rebuild its strength, a French colonel said on Monday, urging a rapid payout of pledged donor funds. The European Union approved in January a 15-month training mission to rebuild a badly paid and poorly equipped Malian army, with the aim of making it strong enough to fend off potential attacks by Islamist militants.

UN aims for Mali peacekeepers by July 1

An 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping force will take over military duties from France in Mali on July 1 if the UN Security Council rules the conflict has eased enough, according to a draft resolution obtained Monday. The 15-member Security Council could vote this month on the resolution that would allow French forces to intervene if UN peacekeepers are under "serious threat."
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