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French forces engaged in heavy combat in northern Mali

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Violence has flared once again in the troubled West African nation of Mali. Heavy fighting between French forces and rebels have erupted anew in northern Mali, as a suicide car bombing killed six government allies in the city of Kidal. A hospital source reported that seven people were dead, which included the bomber, with another 11 wounded.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The bombing took place at a checkpoint at an entrance to Kidal. A leader of the Islamic Movement of Azawad, or MIA, Ag Alghabas Intalla, said by phone from Kidal that he counted six dead and others wounded. The MIA group is fighting with the Malian army and French troops against armed rebels.

It's suspected to be the work of fighters of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO.

"The suicide attack targeted the checkpoint on the eastern side of Kidal which is manned by the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad)," a French military official in the northern city of Gao said.

France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that French troops were involved in "very violent fighting" in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains of northeastern Mali. Le Drian said that it was too early to talk about a quick French pullout from Mali, despite the growing cost of the intervention.

The French intervention in Mali has cost more than $133 million since it started on January 11, Le Drian said on France's RTL radio.

"We are now at the heart of the conflict," in protracted fighting against rebels in the Ifoghas Mountains, Le Drian said.

While the 4,000-strong French force was expected to pull out next month, Le Drian said he could not talk about a quick withdrawal with the ongoing mountain battles.

French and Malian forces easily took back cities in northern Mali. But the fighting is rougher now that it has reached more remote terrain in the mountains of the southern Sahara.

A clash in the area killed 23 soldiers from neighboring Chad last week. French President Francois Hollande expressed condolences to his Chadian counterpart.

Senior United Nations humanitarian affairs official John Ging said in New York that as security improves in Mali, the world must seize the moment to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid. The country's northern region is stabilizing but needs help reopening schools, markets and health clinics.

The U.N. is appealing for $373 million in aid, but has only received $17 million.

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