French planes pound Islamist camps in north Mali desert

Sun Feb 3, 2013 3:12pm EST
 
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By Elena Berton and Tiemoko Diallo

PARIS/BAMAKO (Reuters) - French warplanes pounded Islamist rebel camps in the far north of Mali on Sunday, military sources said, a day after French President Francois Hollande was hailed as a savior during a visit to the West African country.

Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the French army in Paris, said the overnight raids targeted logistics bases and training camps used by the al Qaeda-linked rebels near the town of Tessalit, close to the Algerian border.

"These were important air strikes," Burkhard told Reuters.

Tessalit, some 200 km (125 miles) north of the regional capital Kidal, is one of the main gateways into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains where the rebels have sought refuge after fleeing major towns.

France says the rebels are also holding hostage in these mountains seven of its citizens, seized in recent years in the Sahara region.

Malian military sources said French and Chadian troops had clashed with members of the Ansar Dine militant group in the region around Kidal on Saturday.

French attack helicopters and transport planes carrying special forces left the city of Gao to reinforce the French and Chadian contingent stationed at the airport in Kidal.

The town of Kidal itself is under the control of the pro-autonomy MNLA Tuareg rebel group, which occupied it after Ansar Dine fighters fled six days ago.   Continued...

 
Malian soldiers stand guard before the arrival of France's President Francois Hollande at Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney