France said Sunday that one of its soldiers had been killed in fighting in northern Mali, in the third death of a French serviceman since the launch of its military intervention in mid-January.
The presidency said in a statement that the soldier, from the First Parachute Chasseur Regiment, was killed in combat on Saturday evening.
The defence ministry identified the soldier as Corporal Cedric Charenton, 26, who had been deployed in Mali since January 25 and had previously served in Afghanistan and Gabon.
President Francois Hollande in the statement expressed his "profound respect for the sacrifice of this young soldier" and hailed the "courage and ardour" of French forces fighting in Mali.
The government said in a separate statement that the soldier "was mortally wounded during fighting against armed terrorists taking refuge in the Adrar of the Ifoghas (mountains), in northern Mali."
France has so far suffered relatively few casualties during its operations in Mali, launched in mid-January to back up Malian forces against Islamist rebels who seized control of the country's vast desert north last year.
A legionnaire with the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment was killed amid heavy clashes on February 19 and a helicopter pilot died at the very start of the operation.
The intervention quickly ousted the rebels from the north's main cities and operations are now focused on hunting them down in mountainous areas.
The army said at least 15 Islamist rebels had been "neutralised" -- killed or wounded -- in the fighting Saturday that led to the soldier's death.
Military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said the soldier had been killed while attacking a rebel position following "several engagements with terrorist elements."
"The actions aimed to search (mountain) recesses and tunnels that can be used as shelters," he said, adding that French soldiers seized significant ammunition caches and arms including heavy weapons.