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Hollande to Visit Mali as French Close to Securing Towns

Hollande to Visit Mali as French Close to Securing Major Towns
French soldiers greet Malian people after prayers next to the Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu. Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

French President Francois Hollande tomorrow will visit Mali, where his country’s forces have driven insurgents out of most major towns they controlled in the north, the government said.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Development Minister Pascal Canfin will accompany Hollande, his office said today in an e-mailed statement, without giving further details.

Since intervening in Mali on Jan. 11 to prevent northern insurgents from seizing the capital, Bamako, French aircraft, paratroopers and ground units have driven the rebels out of several key towns, including the historic city of Timbuktu. The French and contingents from African armies are helping Mali’s military regain control of a nation that vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-biggest gold producer.

Fabius, speaking to reporters in Paris today, reiterated that France is “advancing positively” against the rebels in the West African nation’s desert north and that African troops will take over from its forces, which won’t stay in Mali permanently.

After seizing control of the towns of Gao and Timbuktu, French troops on Jan. 30 also occupied the airport in Kidal, the last major city to be occupied by rebels. Sandstorms prevented them from taking over the town, Le Drian said yesterday.

Touareg rebels demanding greater autonomy for the north and Islamist militants won control over northern Mali following a March military coup in Bamako. European and U.S. officials fear the region may become a haven and training ground for Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists intent on attacking western targets.

Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traore, yesterday said he’d negotiate with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the main Touareg rebel group known as the MNLA, provided it drops any claims for a separate homeland. He rejected talks with Islamist groups such as Ansar ud-Din and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

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