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French forces advance in north Mali, security fears near Gao

French forces advance in north Mali, security fears near Gao
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French and African forces have been patrolling the northern Malian town of Tessalit, the latest to be seized from Islamist control.

During the overnight assault on Friday French special forces parachuted into the town near the Algerian border, according to the military.

Elsewhere, Malian forces have been beefing up security in the area around Gao after two youths were arrested, apparently wearing explosives as they tried to enter the town riding donkeys. They are said to be an Arab and a Tuareg.

It comes a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Gao near a group of soldiers.

A Malian officer told the AFP news agency that the situation was “dangerous” just a few kilometres outside Gao. Several villages are said to be sympathetic to the Islamists’ cause.

After retaking the north’s main towns French troops, backed by soldiers from Chad, are reportedly moving into the mountains near the Algerian border where militants are thought to have fled.

The first 70 of 500 military instructors from the European Union have arrived in Mali to train the country’s army.

But there are many questions over the future role of Malian forces – and more suggestions that soldiers have been carrying out reprisals against Islamists or their sympathisers.

The bodies of two Arab men were found buried in a sand dune outside Timbuktu. They are thought to have been executed.