Hollande to Visit Mali as French Close to Secure Towns

French President Francois Hollande will visit Mali tomorrow as 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.

Fabius, speaking to reporters in Paris, 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 have also occupied the airport in Kidal, the last major rebel stronghold. France began a military campaign on Jan. 11 to help Mali restore state control over a nation that vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-biggest gold producer.

On the eve of the French campaign, Malian troops killed civilians suspected of siding with Islamist militants, while the insurgents executed captured soldiers and used children as fighters, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in separate statements.

Civilians Executed

Malian soldiers killed at least 13 men in the then rebel-held towns of Konna and Sevare, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website. The insurgents executed at least seven soldiers, including five who were wounded, it said.

Eyewitnesses in Sevare said “more than two dozen civilians” suspected of supporting the Islamists were executed, according to Amnesty. The groups urged the Malian authorities to investigate the abuses and respect international humanitarian law.

Mali’s army spokesman, Colonel Diarran Kone, declined to comment when called today.

Separatist Touareg rebels and Islamist militants overran northern Mali following a March military coup in Bamako. European and U.S. officials expressed concern the region may become a haven and training ground for militant groups intent on attacking western targets.

Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, said yesterday he’d negotiate with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the main Touareg rebel group known as the MNLA, provided it drops 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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