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Tough task

French fighter jets bring firepower to a recent invasion of Mali.

PARIS — Islamist fighters in Mali have seized a town in government-controlled territory amid a military intervention by France.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Diabaly, 400 kilometres from the capital, Bamako, was taken in a counter-attack today.

Le Drian insisted France’s campaign was “developing favourably”.

He said Islamists had retreated in the east but admitted French forces were facing a “difficult” situation against well-armed rebels in western areas.

France has called a meeting of the UN Security Council for today.

France began its military intervention last Friday in an attempt to halt the advance of Islamist rebels towards Bamako from bases in the north and east.

Separately, Le Drian said he feared militants in Somalia were planning to stage a “macabre” display of the bodies of two French soldiers killed during a failed attempt to rescue a French hostage.

Friday’s raid came hours after the French intervention in Mali.

French war planes had targeted rebel positions near Diabaly on Sunday.

The Islamists began their counter-attack on Diabaly, home to a key Mali army base, last night.

Le Drian told BFM television: “They took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that was not able to hold them off at that moment.”

One resident told Reuters news agency: “[The militants] started to infiltrate the town last night by crossing the river in little groups.”

A Malian military source told AFP that rebels had come from the Mauritanian border area after being attacked by French planes.

France intensified its air strikes on rebel targets over the weekend, with its aircraft also bombing the town of Gao in eastern Mali. (BBC)

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