Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

French Seize Airport in Northern Mali

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

French Seize Airport in Northern Mali

Article excerpt

Meeting no resistance, French forces on Tuesday took control of the last major town that was occupied by Islamists in the region of Kidal in the remote northeast.

French troops took control overnight of the airport of the last major northern Mali town still in rebel hands, officials said Wednesday, after Islamist militants abandoned two other principal settlements in the vast, desert region where residents' relief and elation has given way to some measure of reprisal and frustration.

A French military spokesman in Paris, Col. Thierry Burkhard, said Wednesday that French troops had reached the airport of Kidal, in the northeast of Mali, in an operation that was continuing.

Haminy Maiga, a local official, told news agencies that French forces met no resistance when they arrived aboard four airplanes that landed late Tuesday without encountering resistance. France also sent helicopters, he said.

Kidal is the capital of a desert region of the same name. Secular Tuareg rebels claim to be in control of the town after Islamists fled. A newly formed Islamist splinter group that broke with the main Ansar Dine Islamist force also claims to have a power base there.

The new group calls itself the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and is led by Alghabass Ag Intalla, a leader of the Tuareg ethnic group from the Kidal region who has said he wants to negotiate a settlement with the central government in Bamako about 1,300 kilometers, or 800 miles, to the southwest. Azawad is a Tuareg term for northern Mali.

Mali has been in turmoil since early 2012, when junior officers in the south staged a coup to protest the government's tepid response to an uprising in the north by Tuareg separatists who were subsequently pushed to the side by Islamic extremists bent on imposing an extreme form of Shariah law.

This month, the Islamists suddenly advanced toward the capital, threatening to engulf the south, topple the weak central government and destabilize a vast area of northern Africa.

After a series of punishing French airstrikes in recent days, French and Malian troops launched a lightning campaign on the ground, entering the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu as Islamist rebels seemed to melt away to far-flung hide-outs, possibly in the Kidal Province.

In Gao, groups of residents were reported on Tuesday to be hunting down people suspected of being fighters who had not fled ahead of the French-Malian military forces who took control of the town over the weekend. …

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