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France routs last stronghold in Mali

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:22 p.m.

SEGOU, Mali — French forces seized control of the town of Kidal in northeastern Mali — the last remaining urban stronghold in the country for Islamic militants, officials said Wednesday.

The overnight offensive was the latest success in advances in which al-Qaida-linked militants were ousted from two other major cities, Gao and Timbuktu, since Saturday, officials said.

Unlike previous operations, Malian soldiers were not involved in Kidal, according to French news media. A rebel group said it would not accept the Malian army in the town.

Haminy Maiga, interim president of Kidal's regional assembly, reportedly said that French troops were patrolling and helicopters were circling.

According to Maiga, the Tuareg rebel group that announced it had taken control of Kidal from Islamist militias was gone from the center of town. Members of the rebel group — the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA —were on the outskirts of town, he said.

The Islamist militias reportedly withdrew, melting away into the vast northern reaches of Mali, an area the size of France, and some members defected. France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France, Mali's former colonial ruler, would withdraw from the country swiftly after removing Islamist militias from major urban centers.

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