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French, Malian Forces Clash With Militants Outside Gao

France's defense minister says forces working to retake control of northern Mali are encountering some "residual jihadist groups" outside of the region's major cities.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that French and Malian forces clashed with Islamist militants a day earlier near the city of Gao, and that French aircraft continue to carry out airstrikes against militant targets.

Gao is one of the northern cities French and Malian forces recaptured from Islamist militants last month, in an operation that began after militants started moving toward the capital, Bamako.

In another development, France has called for the United Nations to oversee the African-led military force in Mali.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that the moment security is "assured" in Mali, he could envision the West African mission being placed under U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The U.N. Security Council has begun private consultations on the proposed conversion. The U.N. force, if approved by the U.N. and the Malian government, would support the stabilization of Mali after France withdraws its troops from its former colony.

About 4,000 French troops are currently involved in the Mali mission. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for French President Francois Hollande said the president intends to begin a pull-out of his forces next month, if all goes well.

Currently, an African regional force called AFISMA is being deployed to liberated regions of Mali. The force, which is expected to have at least 6,000 troops, will help the Malian army maintain security after French forces departs.


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(Pt no access France)

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