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French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, says France could start withdrawing its troops from Mali within a few weeks, handing over responsibility for security to an African force.

There are currently around 4,000 French troops in the West African country and Le Drian said this would not be increased.

On Wednesday French and Malian Troops fought Islamist Rebels in the Sahara, while joint patrols searched for insurgents in the scrubland surrounding the trading towns of Timbuktu and Gao.

Gao was hit by rockets fired from the bush on Tuesday, and some residents say they still do not feel safe.

“I don’t know what the army is doing,” said resident Adama Younes.

“If Gao is not protected for 50 kilometres around and if a MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) fighter can set himself up just ten metres from here and fire things like this at us, what’s the use of the army being here?,” Younes continued.

With so few troops securing an area more than double the size of France, Paris has appealed for the swift deployment of a UN-backed African military force, but this has been slowed due to a lack of transport and equipment.

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