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January 14, 2013

Islamists Seize New Mali Town

by VOA News

Islamist militants who control northern Mali are advancing southward, seizing a town closer to the capital, despite continuing French airstrikes.
 
France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the rebels took the town of Diabaly, about 400 kilometers north of Bamako, after fierce fighting with the Malian army. 
 
But he said the French military operation in Mali is working as President Francois Hollande had planned.
 
"The situation is working out in the way that he [Hollande] anticipated and it is evolving favorably.  To the east of Mail, the initiative of the terrorist groups has been blocked.  The city of Konna has been abandoned and the terrorist groups have pulled back to Douentza," he said. 

Well-armed militants

VOA correspondent Anne Look, who is in Bamako, reports the Malian army is sending troops in an effort to beat back the militants, who are described as very well-armed.

​​"The Malian military source in Koulikoro camp, which is about 60 kilometers outside of Bamako, has told me they’re sending reinforcements," she said.  "Keep in mind it might take a little while for them to get there.  So as of right now, we’re hearing that fighting in Diabaly has stopped, and that the Islamists control the town, but it doesn’t appear that the battle is compely over."

Diabaly is west of areas where French warplanes bombed Islamist training camps, bases and weapon depots on Sunday.  Le Drian characterized those attacks as successful.
 
"Concerning Gao, as you are aware, there were a certain number of attacks that targeted the rear base of the MUJAO that yielded extremely tangible results and succeeded in dispersing these terrorist groups to the east and the south," he said. 
 
France deployed forces in the West African country on Friday, as the northern rebel groups made a move to seize government-controlled territory.

UN security council

France's United Nations ambassador Gerard Araud said France decided to help Mali militarily because it was worried the rebels could possibly take the capital. 
 
"Our assessment was that they were totally able to take Bamako.  And so we decided that what was at stake was the existence of the state of Mali, and beyond Mali was the stability of all of West Africa.  With determination, but also with reluctance, we decided that we had no other choice but to launch this military intervention, and we'll conduct it as long as necessary," he said. 
 
The United States said Monday that it was preparing to offer logistical support to France.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States is already providing intelligence gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles operating in the region.  He said Washington is also considering providing limited logistical support and some airlift capability.
 
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Monday welcomed the French-led military intervention, saying he hopes the action will help to stop the rebels' offensive. 
 
Also Monday, the militant group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa joined Islamic Ansar Dine militants in threatening France with reprisals for its role in Mali.  President Francois Hollande has increased security across France.

Al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists seized control of northern Mali soon after renegade soldiers toppled the government in March, leaving a temporary power vacuum.  The militants have imposed harsh conservative Islamic law across the north.

Mali is a former French colony and France still has a variety of economic and political interests there.

The neighboring countries of Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal are promising to send troops to Mali.

The U.N. Security Council approved a plan last month for West African states to deploy at least 3,000 troops to Mali to help train the army and retake the north.  None of those troops had been expected in Mali until September.

State of emergency

​​Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore has declared a state of emergency and has called on every Malian to help in the war effort.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces in Mali are preparing for any rebel move aimed at Bamako, and that they will remain in the area as long as necessary.  Ayrault said the militants are to blame for much lawlessness, including kidnappings.