Sahel conflict: France rejects reports of airstrike on Mali wedding

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image captionThe French first intervened in the Sahel region - a stretch of land just south of the Sahara Desert which includes Mali - in 2013

Reports from Mali say more than 20 people, including children, were killed when an airstrike hit a wedding party in a remote village at the weekend.

Residents of Bounti, in the central Mopti region, said a helicopter opened fire on the ceremony on Sunday.

The French military, which has troops in the region, said it carried out a strike on jihadist militants in central Mali, but that no wedding was involved.

Five French soldiers have been killed in attacks in Mali in recent days.

On Tuesday, France said a military operation - involving an airstrike and carried out after detailed research and days of tracking individuals - had killed dozens of Islamist insurgents in the region.

A spokesman for the French military, who was not named, told AFP news agency that "reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made".

Villagers in Bounti said a low-flying helicopter, which has not been identified, carried out the strike in broad daylight.

Ahmadou Ghana said two of his brothers were killed. "It was run for your lives," he said, according to AFP.

On Saturday, two French soldiers were killed while collecting intelligence when their armoured vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Mali's eastern region of Menaka, the French presidency said.

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image captionFrench Defence Minister Florence Parly (R) pays tribute to three soldiers killed in Mali last week at a ceremony in France

It followed the deaths of three other French soldiers in the country earlier in the week, also when an improvised explosive devise hit their vehicle. In that instance, militants from the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is linked to al-Qaeda, said they were behind the attack.

France has 5,100 troops in the Sahel region, which has been a front line in the war against Islamist militancy in Africa for almost a decade.

The French first intervened in the Sahel region - a semi-arid stretch of land just south of the Sahara Desert which includes Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania - in 2013.

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