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French troops have taken up position at the airport in Kidal, local sources said Wednesday, the third major city in northern Mali after Gao and Timbuktu.
"A French plane landed on the runway at Kidal aerodrome," said a senior local official, who also reported seeing helicopters.
"They have taken up position around the aerodrome," he added.
His account was confirmed by a regional security source.
"We confirm that French aircraft are on the Kidal landing strip and that protection helicopters are in the sky," said the source.
A senior Tuareg figure in Kidal also confirmed the report, as did a spokesman for the Islamic Movement of Azawad, which recently said it had taken control of Kidal.
"The French have in fact taken up positions" on the landing strip, said the spokesman. "Our leader is currently talking with them," he added.
The latest advance came 48 hours after French-led forces recaptured the city of Timbuktu without meeting any resistance.
Northern Mali's three main cities had all been under the control of Islamist extremists since last spring after they seized control of the region in the wake of a military coup last March.
They imposed their own harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law, carrying harsh punishments on offenders, including whippings, amputations and in some cases executions.
© 2013 AFP
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