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French and Malian troops say they have taken the airport at Gao, some six kilometres from the city, and its bridge over the river Niger.

Gao is the major city in Mali’s southeast, and one of the last rebel strongholds on the river. The fall of the airport shows the counteroffensive is making rapid progress in removing the Islamist threat from the south, before it moves into the northern desert where the rebels are strongest.

However government and French forces say they are being attacked in what Paris is calling harrassment raids from rebels who have blended with the locals. French special forces have been deployed to deal with the threat.

Behind the front line dangers remain. In retaken Sevare, Handicap International is organising classes to warn local and refugee children about the dangers of mines and unexploded munitions.

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