Malian army beats back Islamist rebels with French help

Fri Jan 11, 2013 6:59pm EST
 

By John Irish and Bate Felix

PARIS/BAMAKO (Reuters) - Malian government troops drove back Islamist rebels from a strategic central town after France intervened on Friday with air strikes to halt advances by the militants controlling the country's desert north.

Western governments, particularly former colonial power France, had voiced alarm after the al Qaeda-linked rebel alliance captured the town of Konna on Thursday, a gateway towards the capital Bamako 600 km (375 miles) south.

President Francois Hollande said France would not stand by to watch the rebels push southward. Paris has repeatedly warned that the Islamists' seizure of the country's north in April gave them a base to attack neighboring African countries and Europe.

"We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali's very existence. France cannot accept this," Hollande, who recently pledged Paris would not to meddle in African affairs, said in a New Year speech to diplomats and journalists.

The president said resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, which in December sanctioned an African-led military intervention in Mali, meant France was acting in accordance with international law.

In Washington, a U.S. official told Reuters the Pentagon was weighing options in Mali, including intelligence-sharing with France and logistics support.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed France had carried out air strikes against the rebels to prevent them conquering the whole of Mali. He refused to reveal further details, such as whether French troops were on the ground.

France's intervention immediately tipped the military balance of power, with Malian government forces quickly sweeping back into Konna, according to local residents.   Continued...

 
France's President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver a statment on the situation in Mali at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer