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PARIS/BAMAKO - French fighter jets on Saturday stepped up air raids against Malian rebels in the assistance of the former French colony's government as neighboring West African nations also got prepared to send troops.
It was the second day of the air campaign staged by French air force to quash the rebels in Mali after Paris warned that the seizure of northern Mali by the armed militants posed a security threat to Europe.
French troops are briefed for a mission in N'Djamena, Chad, in this photo released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) on January 12, 2013. French forces carried out a second day of air strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali on Saturday and sent troops to protect the capital Bamako in an operation involving several hundred soldiers, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. [Photo/Agencies]
Reports said the heavily armed Islamist fighters have swept southward toward Mali's capital Bamako.
The Malian government troops, under the cover from French air power, have managed to drive the militants out of the strategic central town of Konna.
More than 100 people, including those from both the rebels and government troops, were killed during the conflicts, said a Malian military source on Saturday.
The source said "more than 100 rebels" have been killed during the fighting.
Meanwhile, a witness said he had counted 148 bodies among which several dozens were government troops. The army and its allies are combing Konna to eliminate pockets resistance.
A senior official with Malian president's office said on state television that 11 Malian soldiers were killed in the battle for Konna, with around 60 others injured.
A military source said the rebels now have no possibility to circumvent Konna to attack the south.
According to other military sources, the goal is to liberate all the occupied regions before January 20, the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Malian army.
The rebels, who have occupied several major towns in northern Mali since March last year in the wake of a military coup, overtook Konna on Thursday after days of fighting with the government troops.