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France helps Mali push back rebels and recapture Konna

With French support, the Malian army has retaken the town of Konna, which rebels had secured days earlier. France has begun an intervention in Mali to help counter a push by Islamist rebels.

Malian government forces have pushed back Islamist rebels from the central town of Konna following air strikes by the French military, who began an intervention on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed France had carried out air strikes against the rebels but refused to reveal further details.

"The Malian army has retaken Konna with the help of our military partners. We are there now," Lieutenant Colonel Diaran Kone told the Reuters news agency.

Armed Islamist rebels control much of the West African country's desert north and have begun moving further south.

French President Francois Hollande said United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions provide for the intervention in the former French colony. Earlier Friday, he had said that France would stop any further southward drive by Islamist rebels.

"French forces brought their support this afternoon to Malian army units to fight against terrorist elements," Hollande told reporters. "This operation will last as long as is necessary."

It was the capture of Konna by rebel groups on Thursday that prompted alarm from western governments.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Friday for "accelerated international engagement" and said the bloc would fast-track plans to send 200 troops to train forces in Mali.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had previously made ​​it clear that, for now, Germany would not send troops to Mali. The Foreign Ministry has called on all Germans to leave the West African country.

hc/av (Reuters, AFP)