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Mali conflict: French troops take control of Kidal airport

French military confirms its forces have reached last rebel stronghold in northern Mali

French troops have taken control of the airport in the Malian town of Kidal, the last rebel stronghold in the north, the French army and a local official have said.

Kidal would be the last of northern Mali's major towns to be retaken by French-led forces after they reached Gao and Timbuktu earlier this week in a campaign to drive out al-Qaida-linked Islamists.

"They arrived late last night and they deployed in four planes and some helicopters," said Haminy Belco Maiga, president of the regional assembly of Kidal.

Maiga said there were no immediate reports of resistance.

French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard confirmed troops were in Kidal and that they had taken control of the airport.

"The operation is ongoing," he added..

Haminy Maiga, the interim president of the Kidal regional assembly, said French forces met no resistance when they arrived late Tuesday.

"The French arrived at 9:30 p.m. aboard four planes, which landed one after another. Afterwards they took the airport and then entered the town, and there was no combat," said Maiga, who had been in touch with people in the town by satellite phone as all the normal phone networks were down.

"The French are patrolling the town and two helicopters are patrolling overhead," he added.

Kidal is the capital of a desert region with the same name, where Islamist fighters are believed to have retreated during nearly three weeks of French air strikes and an advance by hundreds of ground troops.

Tuareg MNLA rebels who want greater autonomy for the desert north said this week that they had taken control of Kidal after Islamists abandoned the town.

The MNLA, which fought alongside the Islamists before being sidelined by them in mid-2012, was not immediately available for comment on the French deployment.

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