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France starts troops withdrawal from Mali


08:19, April 10, 2013

PARIS, April 9 (Xinhua) -- France has started to withdraw its troops from Mali, with the first group of 100 soldiers already leaving the West African country to Cyprus, local media reported Tuesday.

The military's chief of staff said the 100 soldiers had been sent to Paphos in Cyprus on Monday, where they will spend three days in a hotel before heading back to France, the French radio RFI reported.

Those soldiers are from French army's parachute units. They had been deployed in north Mali where heavy fighting against Islamist rebels took place, according to the army sources.

On the weekend, French-led troops launched one of the largest offensives since its military intervention in Mali, attacking a valley thought to be a logistics base for al-Qaida-linked Islamists near Gao.

France sent troops in January for a military intervention in the West African country, targeting Islamist rebels who had threatened to take over the capital of Mali.

After more than three months' continued fighting, French-led troops have stopped the Islamists advancing to the south and driven them from most of their northern strongholds.

France has expressed its desire to hand over the mission to the UN peacekeepers.

In a televised speech on March 28, French President Francois Hollande announced to cut French troops in Mali from 4,000 to 2,000 by July, and to 1,000 by the end of the year.

The French head of state called for elections to be held before the end of July with all parties in the Malian society being represented.

France is preparing to hand over the mission to a UN-mandated African force of 6,300 in the coming weeks, but plans to leave a permanent 1,000-strong force to fight terrorism, the RFI report said.

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