French, Malian troops encircle Islamist rebels in central Mali

BAMAKO Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:13am EST

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BAMAKO Jan 16 (Reuters) - French ground troops deployed around the central Malian town of Niono on Wednesday in a bid to halt any further advance by Islamist rebels who have seized the nearby village of Diabaly, Malian military sources said.

"French forces have secured Niono to stop the Islamists advancing to Segou while the Malian army is securing the border area with Mauritania," said one source. "They are now encircled and a final assault is only a matter of time."

In a sixth day of air assaults, French fighter jets also struck the headquarters of the Islamic police in Niafunke, near the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu, local residents said.

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