Clashes in Mali escalate

Fighting in central Mali to push back Islamist forces advancing from the north has killed 11 Malian soldiers and wounded about 60 more, a presidential statement said Saturday.

"I salute the courage of our men who are fighting valiantly,'' said interim President Dioncounda Traore in the statement broadcast on state television. "They fell on the field of honour at Konna,'' the central town recaptured from the Islamists on Friday.

Britain has announced they will provide France with logistical military assistance during its intervention in Mali, but will not deploy any personnel in a combat role.

"The Prime Minister has agreed that the UK will provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly to Mali," David Cameron's office said in a statement.

"We will not be deploying any British personnel in a combat role," added Number Ten.

It later confirmed to AFP that two military transport planes would be sent to the restive West African country.

According to a statement about a telephone conversation between Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Saturday, the two leaders "also agreed that the peacekeeping mission from West African countries needs to be strongly supported by countries in the region and deployed as quickly as possible".

The pair discussed the need to work with the Malian government, regional neighbours and international partners "to prevent a new terrorist haven developing on Europe's doorstep".

They also stressed the need to "reinvigorate the UN-led political process," according to the release.

"The National Security Council, which was already due to meet on Tuesday, will now consider the situation in Mali and discuss what needs to be done to secure a lasting political settlement in Mali," it added.

France sent its air force on Friday to help Malian troops hold back a rebel advance towards the capital Bamako, and on Saturday Paris announced that a French military pilot had been killed.

Cameron earlier said he was "deeply concerned about the recent rebel advances in Mali, which extend the reach of terrorist groups and threaten the stability of the country and the wider region.

"I welcome the military assistance France has provided to the Malian government, at their request, to halt this advance," he added.

The British leader insisted that military intervention "is reinforced by an inclusive political process leading to elections and a return to full civilian rule."

Meanwhile in Somalia, a failed commando raid to free a French hostage held since 2009 left two French soldiers dead while "all indications" were that hostage Denis Allex also died, French officials said.

"Last night's tragic events underline how essential it is that we work together to combat terrorism in Africa," Cameron said in extending his condolences to the families of those killed.

Britain and France were at the forefront of the international military effort to unseat veteran Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

- AFP

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