French terrorists take control of Gao in Mali

26 January 2013 Last updated at 17:44

Mali: French-led soldiers ‘in control of Gao’

French-led troops in Mali have taken control of the northern town of Gao, the French defence ministry has said.

The town was previously a stronghold of Islamist fighters after it was seized by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islamists last April.

French-led troops moved into Gao itself after earlier securing the airport and a strategic bridge to the south.

France has already deployed 2,500 soldiers on the ground in Mali as well as launching air strikes.

Islamists seized a vast area of northern Mali last year and have imposed strict Sharia, or Islamic law, on its inhabitants.

France intervened militarily on 11 January to stop them advancing further south.

The other major northern towns of Kidal and Timbuktu remain in Islamist hands.

The UN refugee agency says more than 7,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring countries since 10 January to escape the fighting.

In a statement earlier, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that 3,700 French troops were engaged in Operation Serval, 2,500 of them on Malian soil.

Gao was one of the first rebel-held areas to be targeted by air-strikes after France decided to intervene in its former colony, a decision which took many by surprise.

A UN-backed international force had not been expected in the west African state until the autumn.

Several African countries have pledged military aid to help the Malian government win back control of the north.

On Friday the African Union asked the UN Security Council to authorise immediate logistical help to allow the 6,000-strong force to deploy quickly.

It also recommended civilian observers to monitor the human rights situation in the areas which have come back under the control of the Malian government. Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of committing serious abuses.

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