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Armed Conflict

Hollande says France ready to halt Mali rebels

President Francois Hollande has said France would be ready to intervene in Mali if the conflict intensifies, after a request from the embattled country's interim president. Hollande said France would seek UN approval.

French President Francois Hollande said on Friday that France "will be ready to stop the terrorists' advance if it continues" in Mali, adding however that any intervention would be "strictly within the confines of UN Security Council resolutions."

Hollande was responding to a Thursday request for help from Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore.

"The terrorists have regrouped in recent days on the line which artificially separates the north and the south of Mali. They have even advanced, and are seeking a fatal blow against Mali's very existence," Hollande said.

Faced with this "blatant aggression," he said France "will respond alongside our African partners to the requests of the authorities in Mali."

Mali was a French colony from 1898 to 1960.

An existing UN resolution, passed in December, authorized the deployment of an African-led military force in the country, and said that European countries could help rebuild Mali's army.

Moving south

Rebel groups control much of the north of Mali, and appear to be moving further south. Two groups with alleged ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), said on Thursday that rebel fighters had taken control of the strategic town of Konna. UN diplomats said that rebels subsequently began moving towards the regional capital Mopti, considered the gateway to the south of the country.

The reports prompted an emergency Security Council meeting in New York at France's request.

Mali's rebels made major gains amid a March coup in the capital Bamako. Tuareg rebels, the MNLA, seeking independence for a northern region they call Azawad, were at one point considered the dominant rebel force, but their uprising was hijacked by Ansar Dine and MUJAO.

msh/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)