France begins withdrawal of troops from Mali


French soldiers from the 126th Regiment Infantery carry boxes containing water bottles on April 8, 2013 some 105 kilometers North of Gao.


Joel Saget

French troops have begun their withdrawal from Mali after more than four months of fighting with Islamist militants.

About 100 of the 4000 troops deployed in Mali have been removed to Cyprus, mainly from a parachute unit.

French forces succeeded in driving back the rebel army in the north of the country, pushing militants out of towns and cities.

Some of the Islamist fighters have retreated to mountainous hideouts.

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France says it expects to remove half its troops by July when national elections are being held.

By the end of the year, it expects to have 1000 soldiers in the region, while handing over military responsibility to a coalition African force numbering over 6000.

There have been reports of talk of a UN-backed force of about 11,000 soldiers to keep peace, as well as additional fighting forces to battle remnants of the militants.

France intervened in Mali in January 2013 to push back Islamic militants that had seized power in the north of the country, imposing strict Islamic law and threatening to take the country's capital, Bamako.

France continues to launch operations against the rebels in an effort to oust them from their hideouts.