Mali: French troops take last rebel stronghold in Kidal


French legionnaires who parachuted onto Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 to recapture the northern Malian desert city walk on January 30 at Timbuktu airport to board a plane to return to their base in Abidjan. French troops on January 30 entered Kidal, the last Islamist bastion in Mali's north after a whirlwind Paris-led offensive, as France urged peace talks to douse ethnic tensions targeting Arabs and Tuaregs.



French forces have secured the last rebel stronghold in northern Mali, according to military sources.

Islamist rebels reportedly left the town of Kidal, near the Algerian border, and were believed to be hiding in the mountains, according to the BBC.

French President Francois Hollande is planning to visit Mali on Saturday, accompanied by his defense and foreign ministers. The president's office said in a statement on Friday that Hollande will visit major cities and the historical city of Timbuktu, CNN reported.

French troops now control the cities of Timbuktu, Gao, Konna and Kidal.

GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Africa, Tristan McConnell, said Hollande is expected to meet with Malian government and thank the troops.

"But he won't be falling into the George W. Bush trap of declaring victory too early," McConnell said. That's referring to the former US president's widely criticized speech about America beating Iraq in 2003, well before President Barack Obama officially declared the end of the Iraq War in December 2011.

"Hollande will more likely just talk about success so far. The French have been very clear that there's still a way to go."

Reuters noted that Hollande's visit will be marred by the allegations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that Malian government troops carried out extrajudicial killings of civilians during the campaign.

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NATO is not likely to get involved in Mali, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday.

"NATO as such is not engaged in the Mali operation and I don't see a role for NATO as such in Mali," he said, while hailing France's "swift and also effective action," according to Radio France International.

Rasmussen said part of the reason he did not see a role for NATO in Mali was because the United Nations Security Council was planning an African-led stabilization force.

A senior diplomat said on Thursday that the UN Security Council was planning to deploy a peacekeeping force to Mali. Last month, a resolution was passed by the body approving a multinational African force to send to Mali.

Now, a peacekeeping force is being considered instead. The diplomat, speaking anonymously, said the force would likely have between 3,000 and 5,000 peacekeepers, according to the Associated Press.

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