French air strikes in Mali continue for third day

AFP , Sunday 13 Jan 2013

Military operations in Mali will not stop until the Islamists retreat from northern Mali positions, says French defence minister

Malians have their blood drawn during a blood drive for Malian soldiers fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in northern Mali, in Bamako January 13, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

France said Sunday that air trikes against Islamists in central Mali were continuing for a third day and warned there would be no let-up until the militants retreat.

"There are raids all the time," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview with several television and radio stations.

"There were (air strikes) last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow," Le Drian said.

The defence minister said the objective was to force the Islamists, who have controlled northern Mali since April 2012, to retreat from territory in the centre of the country which they occupied last week.

The Islamists' advance triggered concern about a possible assault on the capital Bamako and pushed France into an intervention that has been backed by its European allies, the United States and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS.

French air power helped the Malian army to retake the central town of Konna from the Islamists on Friday and President Francois Hollande said Saturday that the rebels had suffered heavy losses, estimated at 100 of their fighters.

One French pilot and 11 Malian soldiers have been killed in the clashes so far.

Human Rights Watch reported at least 10 civilian deaths on Saturday.

France has said its intervention is legitimate under international law and will be limited to helping the Malian army force the Islamists to retreat to the north.

The operation is intended to prepare the way for the deployment of troops from neighbouring West African states who will be set the longer-term task of neutralising the threat posed by the presence of several armed Islamist groups in northern Mali.

"Our intervention is ongoing and we will continue in order to make them retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country," Le Drian said.

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