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U.N. appeals for more troops, helicopters for Mali mission

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations appealed on Wednesday for more troops and helicopters needed so its peacekeeping mission in Mali can effectively stabilize the north of the country and protect civilians from attacks by Islamist extremist and armed groups. The U.N. force, known as MINUSMA, assumed authority on July 1 from a U.N.-backed African force in Mali. But while the U.N. Security Council mandated a 12,600-strong force, there are only some 5,200 troops on the ground.

Two abducted polling officials freed in north Mali

Two polling officials who were abducted in the northern Malian town of Tessalit have been released, an official at the ministry for territorial administration told AFP. "Two of the agents have been released overnight Saturday to Sunday. They are currently free and not far from Tessalit", said the official, who had no information on the circumstances of the duo's release. There was no immediate news on three other polling agents and a local official who were kidnapped at the same time, just over a week ahead of presidential elections in the country.

Fifth French soldier killed in Mali

A French corporal was killed tracking down jihadist fighters in their northern Mali mountain bastions, bringing to five the number of French deaths since the January 11 military intervention, officials said Sunday. France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 24-year-old soldier was killed and three of his comrades wounded when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb blast in the Ifoghas mountains.

France suffers fourth Mali death

Clashes between French troops and Islamist fighters near Gao in eastern Mali left one French soldier and around ten rebels dead, defence officials said on Wednesday. Sergeant Wilfried Pingaud, 37, is the fourth French soldier to die in action since the intervention in Mali began nearly two months ago. He was a member of the 68th African Artillery Regiment based in Valbonne in the south of France.

13 Chadian troops, 65 rebels killed in Mali clashes

At least thirteen Chadian soldiers and 65 militants have been killed in a fierce battle in the mountainous Ifoghas region of northern Mali.

French forces control strategic Mali town Tessalit

French forces on Friday took control of the strategic oasis town of Tessalit in far northeastern Mali, one of the last bastions of Islamist rebels, the military said. General Staff spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said French forces "control Tessalit" after an overnight operation that saw special forces parachute into the local airport. He said they were joined by other soldiers from the special forces who arrived on a transport plane as well as soldiers sent by Chad to boost a regional west African force pledged by member nations.

URGENT ¥¥¥ French forces control strategic Mali town Tessalit

French forces on Friday took control of the strategic oasis town of Tessalit in far northeastern Mali, one of the last bastions of Islamist rebels, the military said. General Staff spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said French forces "control Tessalit" after an overnight operation that saw special forces parachute into the local airport. dch/mm/ach/txw

URGENT ¥¥¥ French-led troops enter strategic Mali town Tessalit

French and Chadian troops entered the strategic oasis town of Tessalit in far northeastern Mali on Friday as they battle Islamist rebels who occupied the north for 10 months, regional security sources said. "The French and Chadians have just arrived in Tessalit, where they took control of the airport. They arrived by air and overland," a Malian security source said. The town is near the Algerian border, in a mountainous region where the militant extremists are believed to have fled. sd/jhb/fb/txw

French, Chadian forces secure Tessalit in northeast Mali

DAKAR, Feb 8 (Reuters) - French and Chadian forces pursuing Islamist insurgents in Mali on Friday took control of the airfield and town of Tessalit in the remote northeast, near the border with Algeria, France's defence ministry said. A statement posted on the ministry's Website said French special forces were parachuted in to seize the airfield, and 50 more troops were sent up to secure the town, which is about 50 km (30 miles) from the Algerian frontier. (Reporting Bate Felix and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

URGENT ¥¥¥ French military conduct major air strikes in Mali

French warplanes bombed training and logistics centres run by Islamist extremists in northeastern Mali on Sunday, just hours after President Francois Hollande visited the country, the military said. The "major" air strikes were carried out overnight in the Tessalit area north of Kidal, the last bastion of radicals who occupied the desert north for months before France's intervention, military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said. pmg/rm/txw
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