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    Islamist Militants Battle French Backed Malian Troops inside Timbuktu

    At least one Malian soldier was killed and several others were wounded Sunday during fighting between Malian soldiers backed by French forces and Islamist militants in the northern city of Timbuktu.

    Officials say at least five insurgents were also killed in the shootout that started Saturday night after a group of Islamist militants infiltrated the Saharan city.

    The militants linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, used a suicide bomber as distraction and entered the city while he blew himself up at a military checkpoint. The militants are trying to recapture the city they held for months until Malian and french troops recaptured it in January.

    It is not clear how many rebels have re-entered Timbuktu.

    City residents told VOA that the fighting is not far from their homes, and that some civilians have been wounded by stray bullets. They say they are staying indoors as the clashes continue.



    The attack Saturday began hours after a Malian military vehicle drove over a land mine, killing two soldiers.

    Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military intervention against al-Qaida-linked groups that had seized northern Mali. France began its operation in Mali in January.

    Meanwhile, a contingent of Senegalese troops has arrived in the northern city of Gao to boost a regional intervention force trying to oust the Islamist rebels from there.

    French President Francois Hollande has said France plans to begin pulling its troops out of northern Mali in April. A multi-nation African force being assembled to replace the French needs more training and equipment to protect vulnerable northern Malian towns.

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