French air strikes fighting kill over 100 in Mali

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More than 100 people including rebels and government soldiers were killed in Mali during French air strikes and fighting over the strategic town of Konna, Malian military sources and witnesses said on Saturday.

An army officer at the headquarters of Mali’s former military junta in Bamako told Reuters “over 100” rebels had been killed, while a shopkeeper in Konna said he had counted 148 bodies, among them several dozen government soldiers.

“We have driven them out, we are effectively in Konna,” Malian Defence Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Diaran Kone told Reuters. “We don’t know if they have planted mines or other traps, so we are moving with caution. There were many deaths on both sides.”

President Francois Hollande said that French military intervention in Mali had halted the advance of Islamists trying to push south from their northern stronghold.

Hollande said French air power, deployed on Friday to stem the rebel onslaught, had “served to halt our adversaries,” adding that the intervention “has but only one goal which is the fight against terrorism.”

“Our foes have suffered heavy losses,” he said, according to AFP.

Hollande added that France will pursue operations in Mali to prepare a subsequent African-led intervention to oust Islamist rebels and will step up anti-terrorist security measures on its own territory.

“We have already held back the progress of our adversaries and inflicted heavy losses on them. But our mission is not over yet,” Hollande told a news conference a day after France launched air strikes to pre-empt a feared rebel advance towards the capital Bamako.

Several West African nations have pledged the deployment of hundreds of soldiers after French forces helped Mali’s army push back the rebels who had taken a key town, Konna, seen as one of the last ramparts against a further Islamist advance.