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Malian troops patrol key town Diabaly

22 January 2013, 15:11

 Diabaly - Malian soldiers on Tuesday patrolled Diabaly to buttress their presence in the central town, which they seized with another key outpost from radical Islamists with the help of French troops.

The breakthrough drove al Qaeda-linked rebels out of key positions in government-held areas, where their advance toward the capital Bamako spurred former colonial power France to launch an offensive 12 days ago.

In Diabaly, 400km north of Bamako, French troops handed over charge of the town to Malian soldiers after driving out the Islamists on Monday, an AFP journalist said.

"Our mission is not to stay here, we will leave the town to the Malians," French Colonel Frederic, not giving his last name in line with army policy, told AFP on Monday night.

Residents applauded wildly, yelling "Long Live France!" as the troops rolled into the town as part of the offensive which has won wide international backing.

France swept to Mali's aid ten months after it lost over half its territory to Islamists who have imposed brutal sharia law in northern towns, amid rising fears that the vast zone could become a new Afghanistan-like haven for al-Qaeda.

Malian army chief General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele said on Monday's victory came after "aerial support from our French partners neutralised all the enemy vehicles and enemy fighters who were in the town and around Diabaly".

Total liberation

Diabaly was seized by Islamists in a surprise attack several days after the French began pounding their positions with air strikes.

Along with the town of Konna 100km west of Diabaly - also since re-captured - the Islamists gained control of strategic points at the narrow centre of the bow-tie shaped nation.

Speaking in an interview with French radio RFI, Dembele said the French-backed army was forging ahead for "the total liberation of northern Mali".

"If the support remains consistent, it wont take more than a month to free Gao and Timbuktu," he said, referring to two of three main cities along with Kidal, in the vast, semi-arid north which has been occupied for ten months.

These towns have been subjected to brutal sharia law by the Islamists, who have whipped smokers and drinkers, banned music, forced women to wear veils and long robes, amputated the limbs of thieves and stoned adulterers to death.


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