Key Words:Mali; military intervention; UN Security Council; French air force; France; Algeria
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>>French army extends airstrike to Mali's northern town
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BAMAKO, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Al-Qaida-linked rebels in northern Mali are facing increasing pressure after days of bombardment by French war planes and with more troops to be deployed on the ground to help the government army.
Paris said it achieved the goal after its air force hit Diabaly overnight to force AQIM rebels to flee.
The Malian army confirmed the initial casualties suffered by rebels including at least five deaths and a large number of injuries in the bombing of Diabaly.
The military said the terrorists were being driven out of town to surrounding zones.
Fighters of AQIM, Al-Qaida's branch in North Africa, seized Diabaly, 400 km north of the Malian capital Bamako, in a counter- attack on Monday after rebels suffered setbacks in air raids in the central town of Konna and the northern town of Gao.
AQIM fighters came from the Mauritanian border in the west, where they managed to escape the airstrikes, according to witnesses.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the situation is "evolving favorably" in northern Mali, where rebels are deserting from major towns including Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
The Malian government expects the military operations to last weeks, as more troops have been promised from France and West African countries.
During a visit to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande said French forces in Mali will increase to 2,500 from 750.
Guinea and Ghana on Monday said they would respectively send 150 and 120 troops to Mali to joint action against rebels.
Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger have also plans to send troops to Mali to boost the government forces.
While fighting is going on, the United Nations warns of 30,000 people being rendered refugees in the past week to join thousands of others displaced in the Mali crisis.
The UNHCR on Tuesday reported that 144,000 people fled Mali in the past year and 230,000 people were internally displaced.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Tuesday called for a cease-fire in Mali, a member state, for talks to end a possible humanitarian catastrophe.
OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu urged "an immediate cease-fire" and all parties to return to negotiations opened in December 2012.
Fighting erupted in early 2013 after the Malian government and Ansar Dine failed to reach any deal in talks on a solution to the Mali crisis.
On Friday, Paris confirmed its military operations in Mali to back the government forces in fighting the advancing rebels, who briefly seized the central town of Konna threatening the southern part of Mali, including the capital Bamako.
Rebels including MUJAO, AQIM, Ansar Dine and the MNLA occupied Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the aftermath of a military coup on March 22, 2012.
The MNLA seeking independence was soon maginalized, while the other groups vow to impose an extremist version of Muslim Sharia law throughout Mali.
The Malian military said it has regained control of Konna with the air support of the French army, vowing to uproot rebels in further actions in cooperation with former colonial power France and regional countries.
More than 100 rebels have been reportedly killed. On the side of the Malian army, 11 troops have been killed. The French troops have also lost two men.
The escalating conflict in Mali has prompted an early deployment, which was originally expected in September 2013.
Cote d'Ivoir President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of the West African bloc ECOWAS, on Friday declared the start of the U.N.- mandated operation to deploy more than 3,000 African soldiers to Mali.
In December 2012, the UN Security Council approved an intervention plan submitted by ECOWAS to restore Mali's territorial integrity and constitutional rule.
The plan was worked out amid looming threats by rebels, especially AQIM, in the Sahel region on the southern edge of Africa's Sahara Desert, where northern Mali is feared to become a safe haven for terrorism and drug and human trafficking.
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