22 Jan 2013

French forces capture Mali towns from militants

3:33 pm on 22 January 2013

French forces in central Mali have captured two towns from Islamist militants following a week of heavy fighting and air strikes.

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says its forces have taken control of Diabaly and Douentza.

A BBC reporter in Diabaly says the town bears the scars of conflict, with burnt-out vehicles and chunks of shrapnel strewn on the ground.

Islamist fighters fled the towns last week after a French bombing campaign started on 11 January.

Diabaly is the first town firmly recaptured from the insurgents. A resident said there were hundreds of Islamists occupying the town and that the Malian army was forced to withdraw when the insurgents used the population as human shields.

A state of emergency has reportedly been extended by another three months.

In a separate development, Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has condemned France's actions.

"We never accept military intervention in Mali, because this will exacerbate conflict in the region," he said at an Arab economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

France has sent 2000 troops to help Malian forces fight the militants, saying it entered the conflict because the insurgents, in control of the north, were advancing south, threatening to turn Mali into a "terrorist state".

It has called on the West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States to speed up the planned deployment of a force of more than 3000.