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French troops to begin pullout from Mali in March

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-06 17:13

PARIS - France will start to withdraw its troops from Mali in March, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday.

"We will continue to act in the north where some terrorist havens remain. I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should decrease," the top diplomat told the free daily Metro.

"France does not intend to remain permanently in Mali. It's up to Africans and Malians to guarantee the security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country," he added.

At the request of Malian President Dioncounda Traore, France has already poured 3,500 soldiers into Mali's northern region seized by Islamist armed fighters.

Asked if France risks reprisals after its intervention in its former colony, Fabius said "we have to stay on our guard in Mali and neighboring countries."

"The narco-terrorist groups have been stooped thanks to our strikes. But there can still be individual acts ... Everyone should have in mind that the risk is always present," he stressed.

Following his emergency decision to intervene in Mali, President Francois Hollande ignited revenge threats of al-Qaida-affiliated cells who said he had put French citizens' safety at risk.

So far seven French citizens were held as hostages by Islamist militants in the Sahel region.

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