Gao - France's first lady Valerie Trierweiler began a tour
of Mali on Thursday with a visit to Gao, one of several northern cities
liberated by a French-led military operation against an Islamist occupation.
President Francois Hollande's partner, on a 48-hour trip as
"part of a mission for children and women", highlighted the role of
female soldiers in securing the north for the former French colony as part of
Wearing a shirt and beige trousers, Trierweiler accompanied
her Malian counterpart Mintou Traore at the launch of a support programme for
residents who had fled Gao when it was occupied last year by al-Qaeda-linked
"I salute the people of Gao who have begun to return. I
would also like to thank the women of Operation Serval," Trierweiler said
at the ceremony, at the city's airport.
She announced that France would donate €500
000 to farmers in the Gao region, stressing "the humanitarian nature of
The rebels have largely been driven out by the French
action, launched on January 11 with the Malian army and other African forces,
but they continue to stage suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks, particularly
in the Gao region.
Trierweiler arrived in Mali late Wednesday, saying her
presence was "a very good symbol" as Hollande and Malian leader
Dioncounda Traore attended a Brussels conference which raised €3.25bn
to help the former French colony recover from the conflict.
After the airport ceremony, the first ladies were due to
visit a school and a hospital.