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French troops have neutralised 200 Sahel jihadists this year, Le Drian

media French Prime Minister Manuel Valls meets French air force pilots in Niger's capital Niamey last month AFP

The French army has “neutralised” 200 jihadist fighters in the Sahel over the last year, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says in an interview to be published tomorrow. Peace talks between Mali’s government and rebels should conclude next month, he said.

The French military has either killed or captured 200 Islamist fighters, 60 since the beginning of August, mainly in northern Mali and Niger, Le Drian told Jeune Afrique magazine in an interview to be published Monday.

Dossier: War in Mali

Two important leaders of Islamist rebel groups were among those “neutralised”, he said.

Last week French special forces said they had killed Ahmed el Tilemsi, the main Arab emir of the Iyad Ag Ghali groups, according to experts.

Le Drian refused to rule out military action in southern Libya, which has become a safe haven for jihadist groups thanks to the battle between Islamist groups and the government in the north and called on the “international community” to take action to resolve the situation there.

Earlier this year France wrapped up its Serval operation in northern Mali and launched Barkhane, in which 3,000 troops are posted in five countries to fight Islamist groups in the Sahel.

Algerian-brokered peace negotiations between the government and six armed groups, mainly Tuareg, that have signed a preliminary accord, should come to a conclusion in January, the minister urged.

“The perspective is for January, with the necessary pressure for a conclusion,” he said. “There is also an economic dimension. Development is needed in north Mali.”

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