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French jets bombard Mali’s Islamist rebels

France said on Thursday its warplanes had hit Islamist command posts near the last militant stronghold in northern Mali, as the UN mulled a peacekeeping force to take over the fast-moving French-led operation.

French jets bombard Mali's Islamist rebels
Two French fighter jets landing in the Malian capital Bamako on January 18th. Photo: ECPAD/Jeremy Lempin/AFP

Ground troops gathered at the gates of Kidal, a desert outpost that is the last rebel stronghold yet to be fully recaptured, as France said its fighter jets had blasted command centres, training camps and depots run by Islamist extremists in the mountains north of the town.

Many rebels are believed to have slipped into the desert hills around Kidal since France launched air strikes on January 11 in a surprise assault to block an advance towards the capital, Bamako, by Al Qaeda-linked extremists who have occupied the north for 10 months.

The latest air strikes were carried out over the past few days in the Aguelhok region near the border with Algeria, a French military spokesman told journalists.

To back up the ground troops already in place, a column of 1,400 Chadian soldiers was heading by road towards Kidal from the Niger border, he added.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France's air attacks had hit the rebels hard. "The jihadists suffered heavy losses," Le Drian said. "There were numerous strikes which hit their equipment and men.

But, in a sign the insurgents remain a threat, at least two Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in central territory recaptured last week from the rebels, a security source said.

Paris has urged dialogue between "non-armed terrorist groups" and Mali's interim government for a long-term solution to the woes of the country, which straddles the Sahara desert and the region to the south known as the Sahel.

Tuareg desert nomads in the north have long felt marginalized by Bamako, and last January rebels launched the latest in a string of insurgencies, kickstarting Mali's rapid implosion.

Meanwhile, UN officials said planning was at an advanced stage to gather those forces together under the umbrella of a formal UN peacekeeping operation.

France now has 3,500 troops on the ground and with support from the Mali army, has retaken several rebel strongholds, including the large regional town of Gao and the fabled desert trading post of Timbuktu, with no resistance.

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WAR

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.

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