3 Feb 2013

Conflict in Mali not over yet - Hollande

5:15 am on 3 February 2013

President Francois Hollande says it would be wrong to assume the conflict in Mali is over.

In the city of Timbuktu on Saturday three weeks after launching an offensive to oust rebels, Mr Hollande said French forces would help Malian forces to finish the job of re-establishing control of the north of the country.

The president was welcomed into the city with chants of "Vive la France".

Mr Hollande said French troops would stay in Mali for "as long as needed. Until the handover is completed".

But he stressed that France had no plans to stay in Mali in the long-term.

Interim President Diouncounda Traore said: "It shows how much France is determined to go all the way side by side with Mali. We ask France to continue with us."

Addressing French troops at Timbuktu airport afterwards, President Hollande warned that the mission was still dangerous.

"The conflict is not over. It would be a mistake to think that because, with our Malian friends, we have managed to restore order in towns like Gao and Timbuktu that we can stop there," he said.

About 800 French soldiers took part in the operation which saw Timbuktu recaptured six days ago. A total of 3500 French troops are currently in Mali.

The BBC reports nearly 2000 army personnel from Chad and Niger, with experience of fighting in the Sahara desert, are already helping consolidate recent gains.

A further 6000 troops will be deployed as part of the International Support Mission to Mali, which has UN endorsement.