BAMAKO // French warplanes pounded Islamist rebel camps in the far north of Mali, hours after the French president Francois Hollande visited the country.
Thierry Burkhard, the spokesman for the French army in Paris, said yesterday that the overnight raids had targeted logistics bases and training camps used by Al Qaeda-linked rebels to the north of the desert town of Kidal.
"The bombing raids took place around the settlement of Tessalit, he said. It is close to the Algerian border and one of the main gateways into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where the rebels are believed to be hiding after fleeing from towns.
"These were important air strikes," Mr Burkhard added.
Malian military sources said French and Chadian troops had clashed with members of the Ansar Dine militant group in the region around Kidal on Saturday.
French attack helicopters and transport planes carrying special forces left the city of Gao to reinforce the French and Chadian contingent at the airport in Kidal.
The town of Kidal itself is under the control of the pro-autonomy MNLA Tuareg rebel group, which occupied it after Ansar Dine fighters fled six days ago.
France has deployed 3,500 troops, fighter jets and armoured vehicles in the three-week-old Operation Serval which has broken the Islamists' 10-month grip on the towns of northern Mali.