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Mali towns hit by fighting, airstrikes

Bamako (Mali), Jan. 17 (AP): Fighting raged in one Mali town, airstrikes hit another and army troops raced to protect a third, on the seventh day of the French-led military intervention to wrest back Mali’s north from al Qaida-linked groups.

Banamba, a town located only 144km from Mali’s capital was put on alert overnight, and a contingent of roughly 100 Malian soldiers sped there today after a reported sighting of jihadists in the vicinity, marking the closest that the extremists have come to Mali’s largest city and seat of government.

France has encountered fierce resistance from the Islamist extremist groups, whose reach extends not only over a territory the size of Afghanistan in Mali, but also as much as 1,000km east in Algeria, where fighters belonging to the cells in Mali kidnapped as many as 41 foreigners at a BP-operated plant, including Americans. They demanded the immediate end of the hostilities in Mali, with a spokesman in Mali, saying that “no foreigner is safe ... our movement is now global”, according to Oumar Ould Hamaha who spoke by telephone to The Associated Press.

The first Malian troops arrived in Banamba late yesterday, with a second group coming today. The small town northeast of Bamako is connected by a secondary road to the garrison town of Diabaly, which was taken by Islamic extremists earlier this week, and has been the scene of intense fighting with French special forces, who continued bombardments and a land assault there today. A city official in Banamba who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak publicly, and who has been involved in getting the Malian troops to defend the town, said they received reports that a rebel convoy had left Diabaly on the road connecting it to Banamba.

“We don’t have a (military) base here, we have no defences. So the military has come to secure the town,” he said. “From Monday to today, no jihadists have entered our town. But there are reports that a column (of rebel vehicles) was seen heading towards us from Diabaly.”

Civil servant Moussa Kone, the head of the government’s planning, statistics, and territorial management office, said he had seen the soldiers arriving both last night and today. “They have taken positions in the town, and they are out on patrol.”

France has stepped up its involvement every day, after launching the first air raids last Friday.

 
 
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