French troops hand over Mali rebel weapons

French troops hand over Mali rebel weapons
French troops in Mali. File photo: AFP
French forces in Mali on Saturday began handing over to government troops seven tonnes of weapons seized from former jihadist bases in the northeastern Ifoghas mountains.

The Mali army took delivery of a first batch of around three tonnes in the main French military base in Gao, the largest city in the northern half of the country which Islamist groups occupied for nine months.

"Only 15 to 20 percent of what has been found is being handed over and can be safely reused," a lieutenant-colonel from France's engineering corps told AFP in Gao.

"The rest is destroyed on the spot to avoid exposing the civilian population to accidents," he said.

According to French military sources, a total of seven tonnes of weapons recovered from caches during operations by French and Chadian forces in recent weeks will be handed back to Mali.

France launched a surprise military intervention on January 11th to help the Malin government wrest the north of the country back from Al Qaeda-linked groups that had controlled it since April 2012.

Jihadist groups quickly pulled out of the main cities in the north and regrouped in their remote mountain bastions near the Algerian border.

Rebels took over Mali's northern half virtually unopposed a year ago, seizing Malian army bases and equipment in the process.

The demise of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi in late 2011 had also scattered his considerable arsenal across the restive Sahel region.

French military sources said most of the equipment handed over on Saturday consists of ammunition, mortar shells, grenades and rockets looted from Malian army bases.

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