BAMAKO France will withdraw its troops from Mali once the Sahel state has restored sovereignty over its national territory and a U.N.-backed African military force can take over from the French soldiers, French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday.
"We have not yet finished our mission. But we do not foresee staying indefinitely. Once the sovereignty of Mali is restored, once MISMA (the African force) can replace our own troops, we will withdraw," he told a news conference in Bamako during a one-day visit to Mali.
Hollande said shortly afterwards in a public speech France's three-week-old military intervention against Islamist rebels had inflicted "heavy losses" on them, but had not eliminated them.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)