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Mali army capture northern towns as regional bloc mulls for rapid military deployment

The Malian government forces, backed with French bombardments, retook the town of Diabaly, about 360 km northeast of Bamako, on Friday, the second victory after they captured Konna in further north on Thursday, security sources said.

After two days of fierce fighting, supported by airstrikes by French troops, the Malian army entered Diabaly, a small town near Niono, as the rebels abandoned the town that they seized on Monday.

The Malian authorities have officially declared control of the central town of Konna after days of fierce battle with Al-Qaida- linked rebels.

Both the army and state television announced the control on Thursday night to spark jubilation among Malians, especially in Konna, which changed hands in the fight to stop northern rebels from a southward push.

Speaking on television, lieutenant-colonel Diarran Kone, the communication adviser in Mali's Defense Ministry, said the town was under the control of the army and that French forces were absent in a strategic move.

France intervened a week ago to launch air raids on rebels who briefly seized Konna from retreating Malian soldiers. The bombardments forced rebels to flee out of town and fightings lasted for days.

A Malian soldier, who did not wish to be named, said there was heavy fighting between the army and rebels from Wednesday night to Thursday morning, adding that there were heavy losses of lives and materials on the side of rebels.

The recapture of Diabaly on Friday marks the second major victory for the Malian-French troops since they launched military operations against the rebels last week.

The rebels who attacked the town of Diabaly were believed supporters of al Qaida's North African wing AQIM (al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb), who apparently made reprisals following French airstrikes against their brothers in Konna.

AQIM together with home-grown Malian groups Ansar Dine and MUJWA have put up staunch resistance against the government offensives.

Ansar Dine, which experts say has links to local al Qaida factions, is a Tuareg-led Islamist group and MUJWA, (The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) is formed in 2011, which has imposed strict sharia law in Gao, the main city of the north of Mali.

The three groups have seized several major towns in the northern part of Mali in the aftermath of a military coup in March 2012.

With the concern of security in the region, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in December 2012, authorizing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to lead an International Support Mission for Mali (MISMA) to intervene.

A ministerial meeting of the ECOWAS opened Friday in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, to examine the conditions for "rapid" deployment of regional troops to Mali.

"We should ensure rapid deployment of the ECOWAS troops to reinforce the operation by the French and Malian forces," said Charles Koffi Diby, Cote d'Ivoire's foreign minister.

France intervened last week, vowing to increase troops in its former colony to more than 2,000 to fight alongside the Malian army.

Diby told the ministerial meeting that participants will deepen discussions on the need to establish a formal timetable for the action plan and define a clear mandate for the MISMA.

"The involvement of France reminds us of the need to rapidly play our role," he said.

ECOWAS is expected to send a contingent of 3,300 troops. Nigeria has promised to mobilize 900 soldiers. Togo, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso have each pledged 500 soldiers. Benin will send 300 officers.

Chad, a non-ECOWAS country, has also offered to provide 2,000 officers.

"All ECOWAS and African countries are encouraged to be involved in this war which requires the support of everyone in terms of human resource, logistics, techniques, health and information sharing," Cote d'Ivoire's foreign minister said.

The ministerial meeting is a warm-up to the emergency summit of the 15-member bloc set for Saturday in Abidjan to discuss the Malian crisis.

[Source: Xinhua, Bamako, 18Jan13]

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