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Chadian Forces Move to Secure Mali's Kidal

Chadian soldiers have begun securing the Malian city of Kidal, which was the last major stronghold of Islamist militants in the country.

French officials Tuesday said about 1,800 Chadian soldiers have begun entering the city. The move comes about a week after French-led Malian forces took control of Kidal's airport.

Earlier, a secular Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA, seized control of Kidal itself.

The French Defense Ministry says French airstrikes have hit 25 Islamist targets in northern Mali in recent days.

France, which launched its Mali intervention last month, has announced plans to gradually withdraw its forces and turn control of recaptured cities over to the Malian army and an African-led military force.

On Monday, France announced plans to begin withdrawing the bulk of its troops from Timbuktu.

In another development, international organizations and officials from Mali met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss Mali's future and efforts to stabilize the country.

After the session, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the international community needed to recognize its responsibilities to Mali and "react quickly."

Stephen O'Brien, the United Kingdom's special envoy for the Sahel Region, said the international coordination effort must recognize the political will of participants.

"This is an international response so we are all working together and working through these issues and make sure it is thought through because the resources can then be called for, providing one has a good strategy, then the resources, of course, follow through."

In addition to the EU, the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States were among about 45 delegations who took part in the meeting.

The group discussed humanitarian and human rights efforts, as well as the political process in Mali, where the crisis began last year when soldiers overthrew the president. Interim leader Dioncounda Traore wants to hold new elections in July.

Another key item is the progress of the African intervention force due to take over from French troops.

The European Union is working on plans to send hundreds of trainers to help Mali's military. So far, 17 European countries have pledged to contribute to the training force.

The United States is assisting in support efforts. A U.S. Defense Department spokesman says as of Sunday, U.S. military C-17's had completed 30 flights into Mali, transporting personnel and tons of equipment.

The March 2012 coup in Mali allowed the MNLA and Islamist groups to take control of the north. The Islamists then seized full control of the region and imposed strict Sharia law with measures that included a ban on music and forcing women to wear veils.


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