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Islamic militants overrun Konna in Mali

Jan. 11, 2013 at 2:49 PM   |   Comments

BAMAKO, Mali, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Islamic militants seized a village long held by Mali government forces, dealing a "critical" blow to the army, an officer said.

Militants advanced into government-held territory Thursday, overrunning Konna, a village in central Mali that had marked the outer limit of the Malian army's control after losing the northern region to rebels in April, The New York Times reported.

The Malian military officer, reached by phone in Bamako, confirmed the retreat of Mali forces and the loss of Konna and called the situation "critical" for the army.

"It's a very serious situation, very dangerous," the officer told the Times.

Militants now threaten a key airfield near the town of Sevare, which is home to an army base. Sevare is about 10 miles from the river city of Mopti, the last major town controlled by the Malian government.

"The Malian army has retreated to Sevare," the officer said. "We need the help of everybody to save Sevare."

Sanda Ould Bouamama, a spokesman for the Islamic attackers, said: "We have taken the town of Konna. We control Konna, and the Malian army has fled. We have pushed them back."

Islamic militants have been accused of war crimes and attempting to impose Sharia religious law, fomenting fears that the region could become a hub for al-Qaida-linked activity, the BBC said.

Islamic attackers and Tuareg rebel allies took control of northern Mali last spring. Since then, the United Nations and Mali's neighbors have been debating and planning a military campaign to retake the north by force, if necessary.

The Security Council met Thursday in emergency session to discuss the situation, issuing a statement expressing concern and restating its determination to enforce previous resolutions on ending the crisis.

Friday, the Security Council called for foreign troops to be sent to Mali, Radio France Internationale reported.

"We ask the Malian rebel groups to abide by Security Council Resolutions 2071 and 2085 calling for them to cut off all ties with terrorist organizations," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

French President Francois Hollande said Friday French troops have begun participation in operations against the militants, noting their involvement has "brought support to the Malian army," the BBC reported. He wasn't specific on the troops' role in the conflict but added the intervention was in line with international law, and was agreed to by Malian President Dioncounda Traore.

The Malian government and rebel groups were expected to meet for peace talks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital, on Jan. 21, a U.N. release said.

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