Bamako: The French army made major inroads in the city of Daibaly, from where Islamists started to flee just a week after they captured it. As per sources some 200 French infantry and some warplanes are entering the city.
"The operation in Diabaly is currently ongoing," said Capt. Romain, the deputy in charge of France's 21st Marine Infantry regiment, positioned in the town of Markala about 85 miles (140 kilometers) from the front line.
Earlier in a success for French-led military operations in Mali to dislodge the Qaeda-linked Islamists from the country’s north, the Islamists yielded to French airstrikes and had to flee the town.
Malian military had taken hold of the town of Diabaly earlier.
"The Islamists began leaving the town on foot yesterday heading east," said a Malian intelligence officer yesterday, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. "They tried to hijack a car, but the driver didn't stop and they fired on the car and killed the driver."
French intervention in Mali started on January 11 on request of Mali government when Islamists had captured Konna another key town.
Islamists appeared better armed and much more efficient than expected, leading French President Francois Hollande to triple the number of troops in Mali operation from 800 to over 2500.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Drian hinted that the number of French troops in Operation Serval could further be increased to 4000 at full deployment.
Meanwhile, France's foreign minister said Saturday that "our African friends need to take the lead" in a military intervention to oust extremists from power in northern Mali, though he acknowledged it could be weeks before neighbors are able to do so. Laurent Fabius spoke at a closely-watched summit in Ivory Coast focusing on ways that African forces can better help Mali as France's military intervention there entered its second week.
"Step by step, I think it's a question from what I heard this morning of some days, some weeks, the African troops will take over," Fabius said in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
The UN refugee agency said Friday that the fighting in Mali could force as many as 700,000 people to flee their homes in the coming months.
Neighboring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation, which is aimed at preventing the militants who rule northern Mali from advancing further south toward Bamako, the capital.
While some initial contributions from Togo, Nigeria and Benin have arrived to help the French, concerns about the mission have delayed other neighbors from sending their promised troops so far.
Funding for the mission is also an issue.
Fabius said that a donor summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 29 "will be a key event."
"I am calling all partners of African development to come to Addis Ababa and to make generous contributions to this work of solidarity, peace and security both for the region and the continent," he said.
At Saturday's meeting, leaders were sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.
Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa's most stable democracies with the majority of its 15.8 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam.
That changed last March, following a coup in the capital which created the disarray that allowed Islamist extremists to take over cities in the distant north.
With Agency Inputs
First Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013, 11:12