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Malian rebels take Diabaly from army in counter-attack


10:02, January 15, 2013

BAMAKO, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Al-Qaida-linked rebels in northern Mali seized the town of Diabaly on Monday in a counter-attack after being bombarded by French aircraft the previous day, officials and local residents confirmed.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM Television that it was not surprising that rebels would launch a counter- attack and that the Malian army was inadequately equipped.

Rebels believed to be members of AQIM, Al-Qaida's branch in North Africa launched the attack on Diabaly, 400 km north of the Malian capital Bamako.

The "Islamist fighters came from the Mauritanian border" in the West after air raids by French war planes, one of the witnesses said.

The fall of Diabaly was confirmed by a senior police officer in the central town of Segou, which is not too far away from Diabaly.

The battle over Diabaly marked the latest development on the ground since fighting was unfolded in the past days with the central town of Konna changing hands and eventually recaptured by the Malian army.

On Friday, France confirmed the intervention of its troops to stop rebels advancing towards the government-held south.

More than 100 rebels were killed in raids on the northern town of Gao by French air force on Sunday, when local residents witnessed vehicles carrying bodies of the slain fighters.

Rebels including MUJAO, AQIM, Ansar Dine and the MNLA occupied Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the aftermath of a military coup on March 22, 2012.

The MNLA seeking independence was soon maginalized, while the other groups vow to impose an extremist version of Muslim Sharia law throughout Mali.

MUJAO challenged the French army on Monday to fight an Afghanistan-style war, which it warned could be even worse than in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

France decided to intervene at the request of Mali for emergency aid against rebels advancing to the south.

Support continues to pour in with groups of French and Nigerian soldiers landing in Bamako on Saturday. Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger said they would each send 500 troops to Mali to boost the Malian army.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday announced a plan for an extraordinary summit in Abidjan, capital of Cote d'Ivoir, in the coming days pending a joint action in northern Mali.

Cote d'Ivoir President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of ECOWAS, on Friday declared the start of a U.N.-mandated operation to deploy more than 3,000 African soldiers to Mali.

Late last year, the UN Security Council approved an intervention plan submitted by ECOWAS to restore Mali's territorial integrity and constitutional rule.

Among the rebel groups, AQIM is considered a major threat in the Sahel region. The military intervention plan was drawn up out of fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for terrorism and drug and human trafficking.

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