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It was all hands to the pump as a British C17 transporter plane loaded up with supplies for the French military operation in Mali.

The UK was one of the first countries to offer logistical support. The US, Denmark and other European countries are also chipping in.

The aim is to drive back Islamic militants from the north of Mali.

French jets have bombarded rebel strongholds and round 550 ground troops have been deployed.

The strategically important town of Konna has been retaken.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters his country’s direct involvement will only last a matter of weeks. It has prevented the advancing rebels from seizing Bamako, he said.

France’s decision to intervene in its former colony came as a shock to many. A UN-backed international force was already slated for arrival in the autumn.

On the streets of Bamako, the relief is palpable. “We salute the French for having come to help us in our combat,” said one woman, “we want them to keep at it until the liberation of our north.”

Paris is pressing the West African ECOWAS bloc to send troops in promptly, as mandated by a UN resolution in December.

3,300 are on their way from Ivory Coast. The UN Security Council will meet again to discuss Mali on Monday.

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