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French ground troops head to north Mali as rebels resist

French ground forces were heading towards Mali's northern region to help local authorities to retake the area from Islamist rebels, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday.

"So far, we made sure that there are some ground forces in Bamako, first to secure our population, our expatriates, EU citizens and the city of Bamako. Now the French ground forces are moving to the north," Le Drian told RTL radio.

"We are in a quite positive situation compared to the last week but the fighting continues and it will be long," he said.

France, which has already poured 800 soldiers into the West African country and has carried out air strikes since Friday in the rebel-held northern half of Mali, said it planned to increase the number of its troops to 2,500.

The commitment came as the Malian forces failed to repel Islamist rebels from Diabaly, a central town of strategic importance, despite five days of French air strikes.

During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, French President Francois Hollande said French troops will stay in Mali until it would have legitimate leaders, an electoral process and no more terrorists threatening its territory.

[Source: Xinhua, Paris, 16Jan13]

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