The Straits Times
Published on Feb 02, 2013

Hollande to visit Mali as French troops eye last bastion


TIMBUKTU, Mali (AFP) - President Francois Hollande prepared to visit Mali as French-led troops worked Friday to secure the last Islamist stronghold in the north after a lightning offensive against the extremists.

Mr Hollande, whose surprise decision to intervene in Mali three weeks ago has won broad support at home, will travel to the fabled city of Timbuktu and hold a working lunch in the capital Bamako with Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore, the Malian presidency said.

"I am going to Mali to express to our soldiers all our support, encouragement and pride," said Mr Hollande.

"I'm also going to ensure that African forces come and join us as quickly as possible and to tell them we need them for this international force." France is keen to hand over its military operation to nearly 8,000 African troops slowly being deployed, which the United Nations (UN) is considering turning into a formal UN peacekeeping operation.