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Malian forces use helicopters to drive rebels out of Gao

The Malian soldiers supported by the French and Nigerien forces have since Sunday afternoon been engaged in combating against the armed groups in the country's North-East town of Gao, sources have said.

It will be recalled that before the armed intervention by the Malian forces, with support from the French and African troops in early January, the town of Gao was occupied by the fighters of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), who were later driven out of the town.

"The fighting resumed on Sunday afternoon with the entry of helicopters at around 4:45 p.m (local time). The rebels have not yet been dislodged from the local police station," a local resident told Xinhua.

Some other residents said that the rebels were seen at Wabaria bridge on their way out of town and near the Gao market.

"At the moment when I am speaking to you (at around 2:00 p.m, local time), the Malian soldiers who are supported by the French and Nigerien soldiers, are engaged in a counter-offensive against the rebels in our town. You can hear the heavy gunshots yourself," a resident of Gao said.

Local sources said that on Sunday afternoon, the Gao city center was deserted after the residents fled to take refuge in their homes.

Before Sunday's confrontation, the second suicide bomber had blown himself up on the night before.

"Yesterday (Saturday) night at around 10:00 p.m, we heard a loud explosion," two men who are residents of Gao said and added that "we have learnt that it was a suicide bomber who seriously injured a Malian soldier."

This was the second suicide bomber to blow himself up after the first one on Friday, in the same town of Gao.

[Source: Xinhua, Bamako, 11Feb13]

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