Clashes Erupt in Northern Mali
by VOA News February 23, 2013
Fresh clashes have erupted in two regions of northern Mali where French and African troops have been backing Malian efforts to push Islamist militants from their remaining strongholds.
A reporter for VOA says the MNLA ethnic Tuareg rebel group was battling an unidentified armed group on Saturday near the town of Tessalit.
On Friday, a car bomb exploded outside an MNLA base near Tessalit, killing five people, including the two suspected suicide bombers.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande says French and Chadian forces are battling militants in the mountainous Ifoghas region, near the Algerian border. He told reporters on Saturday that troops believe a large number of 'terrorist groups' are seeking refuge in the remote region.
On Friday, the military command in Chad said 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels had been killed in fierce battles in the Ifoghas region.
Chad has about 1,600 soldiers in Mali.
Forces from former colonial power France entered Mali in January to push back militants moving toward the capital, Bamako.
France has since said it plans to begin withdrawing its ground forces and hand over military operations to the Malian army and the emerging African force.
In another development, U.S. defense officials said the United States has deployed several Predator drones to the West African country of Niger to fly surveillance missions in support of French troops battling militants in neighboring Mali.
The officials quoted in U.S. news reports on Friday say the unarmed robotic aircraft are to be based near the Niger capital, Niamey, along with a contingent of about 100 U.S. military personnel.
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