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France's Mali campaign enters third day

The French campaign in Mali has shown no sign of abating as it enters its third day. The country's defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, warned that a French departure would not happen overnight.

French warplanes clashed with Islamist rebels in Mali for a third day Sunday as a conflict with high stakes between Islamists and government troops bolstered by French air power thundered on.

France, which first launched an aerial campaign on Friday to help government troops prevent radicals with suspected al-Qaeda links taking over Mali, is carrying out air raids in order to "liquidate" armed Islamist groups, according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

"There are constant raids. There are raids going on at the moment, there were raids overnight, and there will be raids tomorrow," said the Le Drian, emphasizing that the advancement of armed rebels had not been "totally prevented."

Mali's government also announced 11 fatalities in the town of Konna, where fighting has been particularly fierce, with Islamists and state troops vying for control.

The fresh developments followed an upbeat address by French President Francois Hollande on Saturday.

‘Not over yet'

"We have forced a halt and inflicted heavy losses on our adversaries," Hollande said. "But our mission is not over yet."

Hollande also said that the domestic alert level would be increased following the start of the intervention in Mali. The president said he asked Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to increase protection of public buildings and public transport.

So far, there has been one French fatality in the operation. A French helicopter pilot died during fighting against Islamist rebels in Mali, Le Drian said on Saturday. He confirmed that the pilot had died on Friday, but he did not comment on whether rebels had shot down the helicopter.

Help on the way

Although France alone is currently helping Mali's government to fend off a takeover of the country by Islamist rebels who control the north, and, ultimately, seize back control of the north too, other foreign players have started to respond.

The Economic Community of West African States is to deploy soldiers to Mali by Monday in order to help push rebel fighters northward. In a statement released on Saturday, the commission president of the bloc, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said the decision had been taken "in light of the urgency of the situation."

Britain has also said it will supply transport planes and equipment.

sej/msh (AFP, dpa)