French troops have reportedly entered Kidal, the last stronghold of the Islamic militants in northern Mali, taking control of the airport that was still in rebel hands. The development came after the militants fled from two other major settlements in the desert district.
According to reports, a number of aircrafts, including helicopters, landed at the Kidal airport shortly after French troops captured it. Militants reportedly escaped from the town and it was not confirmed who was in charge of the town now.
One report said that the secular Tuareg rebels claimed control of Kidal as soon as the Islamist militants fled. A recently established Islamist splinter group, said to be a disgruntled faction of the powerful Ansar Dine Islamist force, also claimed to have established strong power base in the town.
The group, headed by a prominent local ethnic leader, Alghabass Ag Intalla, calls itself the Islamic Movement for the Azawad. Intalla has said that he is open to negotiation with the central government in Bamako.
Haminy Maiga, the interim president of the Kidal regional assembly, told The Associated Press news agency, "The French arrived at 9:30 p.m. [Tuesday] aboard four planes. Afterward they took the airport and then entered the town and there was no combat.”
The French army’s representative, Col. Thierry Burkhard, also confirmed that French troops were positioned during the night in Kidal.
Mali has been in chaos as of early 2012, when junior military officers in the south snatched power after the government failed to deal with a rebellion in northern Mali by Tuareg rebels, who were then eclipsed by Islamic militants bent on imposing a severe form of Islamic legal system known as the Sharia law.
The Islamists militants started advancing toward the Malian capital earlier this month. Sensing the danger, the Malian regime called France for help. French and Malian forces started a speedy ground and air operation. They successfully forced the militants out of their stronghold towns of Gao and Timbuktu.
Meanwhile, ethnic tensions have prompted in Mali, as residents attacked shops belonging to the Tuareg and Arab minorities in attempts of vengeance.