Mali conflict: French troops battle Mali rebels

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French troops have been fighting Mali’s Islamist rebels in street battles in the town of Diabaly, Malian and French sources say. In the first major ground operation in the conflict, French special forces were fighting alongside Malian troops. Diabaly, 350km (220 miles) north of the capital Bamako, was captured by the rebels on Monday. France intervened in Mali last Friday to try to halt the Islamists’ drive southwards towards the capital. Islamists entered Diabaly on Monday, taking the town from Malian forces. French war planes have since attacked the rebel positions. French army chief Edouard Guillaud said on Wednesday that ground operations had begun. Residents of Niono, 70km south of Diabaly, say the French arrived overnight. The French may face a difficult situation in Diabaly. One eyewitness, Ibrahim Komnotogo, told the Associated Press news agency: “The jihadists have split up. They don’t move around in big groups. They are out in the streets, in fours and fives and sixes, and they are living inside the most habituated neighbourhoods.”