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French-led troops set to take control of Timbuktu in northern Mali

French army troopers arrive at the base camp in Sevare, Mali, January 25, 2013.

French army troopers arrive at the base camp in Sevare, Mali, January 25, 2013.

French-led forces have taken control of the access points to the Malian desert town of Timbuktu as they continue advancing further across the north of Mali, which is controlled by fighters.

The French-led troops had taken control of the Timbuktu airport late on Sunday.

“We control the airport at Timbuktu,” said a senior officer with the Malian army on condition of anonymity on Monday, adding that, “We did not encounter any resistance.”

A French military spokesman also said that the French-led forces now controlled the territory between the towns of Timbuktu and Gao.

French troops and Malian soldiers seized the town of Gao on Saturday after French warplanes and helicopters bombed areas in and around the town. A number of civilians were killed during the operation.

The French Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the French warplanes have carried out some 20 airstrikes on targets in Gao and Timbuktu.

“Around 20 air missions have been carried out in the last 36 hours in the regions of Gao and Timbuktu,” the French ministry said in a statement.

There have been reports of civilian casualties in the latest French-led attacks.

At least 12 civilians also have been killed and more than a dozen others injured in a French air raid on the town of Konna.

Meanwhile, thousands of people in Mali have been forced to flee their homes amid the French-led war on the West African nation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that more than 5,000 Malian refugees have arrived in Mauritania alone since January 11, when France launched a war on Mali under the pretext of halting the advance of fighters in the country.

The United States, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Germany and Denmark have voiced support for the French war on Mali.

Analysts believe motives to exploit untapped resources including oil, gold as well as uranium in the region are behind the multinational military campaign in Mali.

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