|[Published: Sunday January 13 2013]
French pilot killed in combat against Mali Islamists
Paris, 13 Jan - (ANA) - French forces have continued to launch air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali and sent troops to protect the capital, Bamako as it emerged that one of its pilot had been killed in fighting. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who announced the death of the pilot said army units had attacked a column of rebels heading towards the centraltown of Mopti. The French troops were deployed on Friday after Mali's army lost control of a strategically important town. Mali's government said its forces had recaptured the town, Konna, after the air strikes. In a separate development, the West African bloc Ecowas authorised the immediate deployment of its troops to Mali.
In a statement, Ecowas Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said the decision was made "in light of the urgency of the situation". A government official in Niger told Reuters news agency around 500 troops would be sent while AFP reported that Burkina Faso was sending a similar force. The surge in fighting is the most serious since armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, took control of the whole of northern Mali last April. Since then, two groups - Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) - have sought to enforce an extreme interpretation of Islamic law in the area.
Regional and Western governments have expressed growing concern about the security threat from extremists and organised crime. France's intervention in Mali began late on Friday afternoon, when helicopters were said to have opened fire on rebels heading south near Mopti. The defence minister said on Saturday that hundreds of French troops were involved and many of them had been sent to the capital to provide security. The minister said Paris had decided to act urgently to stop the Islamist offensive, which threatened to create "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe". France ruled Mali as a colony until 1960.(ANA)
FA/ANA/13 January 2013--------