Paris - French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in
northeastern Mali on Thursday to meet French troops fighting Islamist rebels,
the ministry said.
He was to visit several cities, including the capital
Bamako, and was due in the northern city of Gao at mid-day.
"I wanted to salute our soldiers... because it is here
that fighting has been at its hardest," Le Drian said on France 24
television at the start of his visit.
Noting that two French soldiers had been killed in Mali's
northern mountains in recent days, Le Drian said: "I want to pay homage to
them and salute their comrades. I wanted to tell them that France is proud of
"The mission is not over," he said. "It is
later that we will progressively withdraw to hand over to the African mission
under the United Nations."