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Germany considers options to aid Mali intervention

Germany has said it's looking at ways to aid France's intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, as airstrikes continue. Meanwhile, the rebels have seized a central town in the African country as they push southwards.

Berlin said on Monday that it was considering its options to help the French mission in Mali. "Such support could come in the field of logistics, medical support or humanitarian support," said a spokesman for the foreign ministry at a government news conference.

The German cabinet had agreed "to start talks with France on how we can support France's engagement, short of sending combat troops, for example in the political, logistics, humanitarian and medical fields," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, adding that the prospect of a "terrorist haven" in North Africa was an unwelcome one.

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EU reacts to French Mali mission

Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, meanwhile, praised the French effort as "deserving of support," while ruling out the possibility that German troops would be sent.

Britain also said it was keen to offer support to France, although there was no chance of British "boots on the ground."

Prime Minister David Cameron said the British help would include both logistical and intelligence support. "France is a strong ally and a friend of Britain," Cameron told the BBC.

Two British transport planes were scheduled to fly to Mali on Monday, carrying French military vehicles.

Counter-offensive by Islamist rebels

Islamist rebels battling to take control of Mali on Monday took the town of Diabaly, in the center of the country, according to the French defense ministry.

The development came after the rebels launched a counter-offensive earlier in the day against Malian government forces backed by French air raids and ground troops. The latter alliance has been trying to prevent the rebels, who already have control of northern Mali, from pushing southwards.

The news comes despite earlier assurances from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday that the rebels had been largely seen off. "Blocking the terrorists, that's done," Fabius told RTL radio and LCI television in an interview. "What we started today was taking care of the terrorists' strongholds."

Thousands of refugees flee

The United Nations estimated tens of thousands of civilian refugees are fleeing Mali due to the latest fighting.

"An estimated 30,000 people may have been displaced as a direct result of the fighting in Central/Northern Mali," UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters Monday.

"It is feared that the number of people affected may be greater as it has been reported that some Islamist groups have prevented people from moving south," he added.

Mauritania's Interior Ministry confirmed thousands of refugees were en route to the country's border, said del Buey. He added that some 230,000 people have been displaced since Tuareg and Islamist rebels took control of the country in March of last year.

rc/dr´(AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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