By Inti Landauro and David Gauthier-Villars
PARIS--French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Monday said Islamist rebels defeated the Malian army around the town of the small town of Diabali located south of the northern half of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.
The rebels "took Diabali, a small town, after fierce fighting and a strong resistance from the Malian army, which was insufficiently equipped at that moment," the minister said in interview with BFMTV channel.
Northern Mali's Islamist rebels crossed south after the French army bombed strongholds in the northern half of the country under rebel control, the minister said. He said the rebels moved to the west of the frontline, near the border with Mauritania, following the bombings during the weekend. In an earlier press conference, he said that area around Diabali, close to the border with Mauritania, is "a difficult point".
France sent troops in Mali Friday, in response to an urgent appeal from Mali President Dioncounda Traore, to stop an offensive from Islamist rebels launched from the northern part of the country they already control. France and the international community are concerned that northern Mali's rebels could provide a sanctuary for terror groups in the area they control, which is as large as France.
As the French army expected, the rebels are "heavily armed, very determined and well organized," Mr. Le Drian added.
-Write to Inti Landauro at [email protected]