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SYRIA

‘Mission accomplished’: France to cut Mali troops

France is set to cut the number of troops in Mali next month with President François Hollande insisting "the situation is well under control". Meanwhile Paris will host a "Friends of Syria" meeting on Sunday with numerous foreign ministers due to attend to discuss the conflict.

'Mission accomplished': France to cut Mali troops
The numbers of French troops in Mali are set to be cut with Hollande insisting the situation is under control. Photo:AFP

France will cut its troops in Mali to 1,600 by the middle of next month from the current level of 2,500, President Francois Hollande said Wednesday.

Speaking at an airbase in Creil in northern France, Hollande said the "situation is well under control" in Mali, where the "key objectives of the mission have been accomplished."

"The troop size will be reduced from about 2,500 at present to 1,600 and then to 1,000 which is the number necessary to fight any threat that might resurface as these terrorist groups are still present in northern Mali," the president said.

France launched the military Operation Serval in its former colony on January 11, 2013 to repel an Islamist advance following a coup.

The intervention has been widely hailed as a success internationally for stopping Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from descending south of the sprawling country and advancing on the capital Bamako.

Friends of Syria to meet in Paris

Meanwhile French attempts to play a part in resolving another conflict abroad will see it host a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Paris on Sunday with leaders of the mainstream opposition to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of peace talks due later this month. US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to attend.

A French diplomatic source said the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will be present, among others, as will Ahmad Jarba, head of Syria's mainstream opposition National Coalition.

The Coalition has yet to decide whether it will take part in UN-backed peace talks aimed at negotiating an end to a conflict that has left more than 130,000 people dead and millions displaced since it erupted in March 2011.

The different factions in the Coalition were unable to reach an agreement on participation at two days of talks in Istanbul this week and postponed a decision on the issue until next week.

The Syrian National Council, the main group in the Coalition, is threatening to boycott the peace talks unless it has assurances that Assad will be forced to give up power. 

The Syrian government has said it will attend the talks but that Assad's departure is not up for negotiation.

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SYRIA

French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
   
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
   
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
 
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
   
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
   
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
   
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
   
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
   
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.
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