African delegates, troops in embattled Mali





-VAR of the delegation and Nigerian troops doing press-ups

-VAR of the delegation and Togolese troops standing and chanting

SOUNDBITE 1 Kadre Desire Ouedraogo (man) president of the Ecowas delegation (French, 15 sec) - about the lack of figures regarding the number of ECOWAS troops already in Bamako:

"Deploying troops in such a short time requires a lot of organisation and means, so you can understand that it takes some time. The most important thing that you need to know is that the troops will be here as quickly as possible."

[In French: "Déployer des troupes dans un délai aussi court nécessite beaucoup d'organisation, beaucoup de moyens et vous concevez que cela prenne quelque temps. L'essentiel c'est que vous sachiez que les troupes seront là le plus rapidement possible."]

-VAR of planes arriving with the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation at Bamako airport

-French helicopters

SOUNDBITE 2 Yamoussa Camara (man) Malian Defense minister (French, 9 sec) - about Diabali :

"They're checking if there are still hidden pockets of resistance. They haven't found anything yet, there are only destroyed vehicles."

[In French: "Ils sont en train de vérifier s'il y a encore des poches de résistance cachées par là. Pour le moment ils n'ont rien trouvé, il n'y a que des véhicules détruits."]

- VAR French helicopters, fighter jets, soldier





French, Malian troops recapture key towns from Islamists

by Jean-Pierre Campagne


ATTENTION - ADDS Merkel, Algerian PM, Kuwait demo ///

DIABALY, Mali, Jan 21, 2013 (AFP) - French and Malian troops recaptured two key towns Monday from Al-Qaeda linked Islamists holding Mali's north, as Egypt warned the Paris-led offensive could spark regional conflict.

The inroads into the central towns of Diabaly and Douentza marked a significant advance in the 11-day offensive led by former colonial power France, whose aim is the "total reconquest" of Mali's vast semi-arid north.

But breaking ranks with the global community which supports the UN-backed intervention amid concerns the vast arid zone could become a new Afghanistan-like haven for Al-Qaeda, Egypt was critical.

"We do not accept at all the military intervention in Mali because that will fuel conflict in the region," President Mohamed Morsi said.

Dozens of Islamists also protested outside the French embassy in Kuwait calling on Gulf leaders not to support the operation.

But in Diabaly local residents applauded wildly as a convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles with some 200 Malian and French troops moved into the town on Monday morning.

Some shouted "Long Live France!" as the troops rolled in and others scrambled to photograph the "liberators" on their cellphones.

French military officials and local residents both said the fleeing Islamists had riddled the town with landmines.

"There is a problem with unexploded ammunition," said Lieutenant-Colonel Frederic, in charge of the operations in Diabaly who identified himself by only his Christian name in line with French army policy.

Diabaly, which lies 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bamako, has been the theatre of air strikes and fighting since it was seized by Islamists a week ago.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the town of Douentza, which had been under Islamist control since September had also been retaken by French and Malian troops.

Douentza is a strategic crossroads town some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Konna, whose capture earlier this month by extremists saw the French army swoop to the aid of the crippled and weak Malian army.

The push into the government-held southern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation was seen as a threat on Bamako.

French and Malian forces forged ahead with their offensive despite threats of further retaliation from jihadists after a stunning hostage attack at a gas plant in neighbouring Algeria which ended Saturday with the deaths of 37 foreigners.

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal reiterated that his country would not put boots on the ground in Mali but stressed the "integrity of Mali has to be preserved.

"We cannot accept a 'Sahelistan' tomorrow on the Algerian frontier," he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged support for France saying "we cannot let them down. They are our partner."

The European Union offered to host a global meeting on Mali in Brussels on February 5, involving the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc.

Meanwhile the planned deployment of around 6,000 African soldiers continued slowly into Bamako. The UN-approved African-led force is hampered by cash and logistical constraints, requiring up to 200 million euros ($265 million).

Mali's crisis first erupted when the nomadic Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalised by government, launched a rebellion a year ago and inflicted such humiliation on the Malian army that it triggered a military coup in Bamako in March.

The Tuaregs allied with Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and seized control of huge swathes of territory including the main towns of Gao, Kidal and fabled Timbuktu.

The Islamists soon chased out their Tuareg allies and began imposing an extreme form of sharia, or Islamic law, flogging, amputating and sometimes executing violators.