Mali conflict: French troops 'seize' Diabaly, Douentza

  • 21 January 2013
  • From the section Africa
Media captionMark Doyle on the front line with French soldiers in Segou, Mali

French and Malian troops have seized the key Malian towns of Diabaly and Douentza from militant Islamists, the French defence minister has said.

A BBC reporter in Diabaly says the town bears the scars of conflict, with burnt-out vehicles and chunks of shrapnel strewn on the ground.

Islamist fighters fled Diabaly and Douentza last week after a French bombing campaign started on 11 January.

A state of emergency has reportedly been extended by another three months.

On Monday evening the government announced it would prolong the state of emergency, declared on 11 January, according to the AFP news agency and Malian news reports.

In a separate development, Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has condemned France's actions.

"We never accept military intervention in Mali, because this will exacerbate conflict in the region," he said at an Arab economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

France has sent some 2,000 troops to help Malian forces fight the militants, saying it entered the conflict because the insurgents, in control of the north, were advancing south, threatening to turn Mali into a "terrorist state".

It has called on the West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), to speed up the planned deployment of a force of more than 3,000.

But during a visit to Berlin, Ecowas chairman and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to send troops.

"Germany has soldiers in Afghanistan and it has the capacity to send them also to Mali," he said.

An Islamist group in Nigeria has said it carried out an attack last week which killed two Nigerian troops as they prepared to deploy to Mali.

Ansaru said it targeted the troops because the Nigerian military was joining efforts to "demolish the Islamic empire of Mali".

Nigeria has pledged to send 1,200 troops to Mali, with the first 50 deployed last week.

Togolese and Senegalese solders make up the remaining 100 troops already in Bamako, AFP news agency reports.

'PR exercise'

The BBC's Marks Doyle reports from Diabaly that French troops spearheaded the operation to retake the town, which is about 400km (250 miles) from the capital, Bamako.

They brought Malian forces along with them, partly as a public relations exercise, he says.

In a bizarre sight, Diabaly Mayor Oumar Diakite has been walking through the town's sandy streets in a smart suit with his ceremonial sash of office across his chest, thanking Malian and French forces in every conversation, our correspondent says.

Mali's Islamist fighters fled Diabaly on Friday.

They held the town for only about a week, seizing it after France's intervention in Mali.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Diabaly was now under the control of French and Malian troops, AFP news agency reports.

The central town of Douentza, about 800km (500 miles) from Bamako, had also been recaptured, he was quoted as saying.

Army commanders had earlier expressed fears that Islamists fleeing Diabaly had planted landmines.

On Sunday, Mr Le Drian said France was seeking "total reconquest" of northern Mali.

"We will not leave any pockets" of resistance, he told French television.

The Islamist groups currently control an area of the Sahara Desert larger than France.

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