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French in final push against Mali rebel forces

A boy holds a homemade French flag in the recently liberated town of Douentza, Mali yesterday.

A boy holds a homemade French flag in the recently liberated town of Douentza, Mali yesterday.

TIMBUKTU — French forces say they have entered Kidal in the north of Mali, the last major town they have yet to secure in their drive against Islamist militants.

French forces now control Kidal airport after a number of aircraft, including helicopters, landed there overnight.

Islamist militants were reported to have already left the town and it was unclear who was in charge.

French and Malian forces have been sweeping north, earlier taking Gao and Timbuktu with almost no resistance.

France – the former colonial power in Mali – launched a military operation this month after Islamist militants appeared to be threatening the south.

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard confirmed that “French elements were deployed overnight in Kidal”.

Haminy Maiga, the interim president of the Kidal regional assembly, told the Associated Press news agency: “The French arrived at 9:30pm [Tuesday] aboard four planes. Afterwards they took the airport and then entered the town and there was no combat.”

The Islamist militants had taken advantage of a military coup in March last year to impose Sharia in a number of cities in the north.

However, the Islamic Movement of Azawad, which recently split from Ansar Dine, says it is now in charge in Kidal. (BBC)

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