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Killed Malian soldiers had joined Islamists – source

Dead Malian soldiers joined ISMalian soldiers killed in a French military strike in northern Mali were deserters who joined an Islamist militant group, a French source said.

That contradicts comments from the Malian Defence Ministry, which said the soldiers killed in the October 23 strike, a raid on a camp of the Ansar Dine militant group, were hostages.

The French source said the raid was carried out “on the basis of detailed intelligence against a camp that included Malians who had joined the Islamist ranks. They were hit, amongst others.”

“They were not prisoners,” the source told Reuters, declining to say how many were killed or captured in the raid.

The source accused Malian authorities of spreading propaganda in the run-up to a presidential election scheduled for November 2018.

A French defence ministry source added: “We have a trust problem with the Malians.”

Malian officials were not immediately available for comment.

The French army said in a later statement the head of its Barkhane operation, General Bruno Guibert, spoke with his Malian counterpart to update him on information it said showed the stricken camp was “unmistakably” a training camp for terrorists.

“This research has at no point shown the presence of Malian soldiers, whether captured or hired by the terrorist group,” the statement said, adding the French army was ready to help Mali if it wanted to send a mission to gather information.

The French army previously said 15 members of Ansar Dine, loosely affiliated to other militant groups operating in northern Mali, were taken “out of action” in the raid.

The Malian government is struggling to contain Tuareg and Islamist violence in northern Mali, some spreading south. Attempts to place officials in northern towns have sometimes failed, raising questions about government’s ability to maintain stability ahead of the election.

Islamist militants seized northern Mali in 2012 and French forces intervened a year later.

Around 4,000 of its troops remain in West Africa’s Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane, a cross-border anti-terrorism operation.

France is at the forefront of organising a regional force as part of efforts to find a long-term strategy to exit the region.

 

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