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French army had 'no contact with Mali kidnappers'

The bodies of French journalists Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were found by a French patrol. Credit: APTN

France's army never had any visual or physical contact with the gunmen who killed two French journalists in northern Mali on Saturday, an army official said.

Armed Forces spokesman Colonel Gilles Jarron said the bodies of the two reporters had been found by a French patrol some 10 kms (6 miles) to the east of Kidal after they were tipped off by a local resident that the journalists had been taken.

Two French helicopters arrived on the scene 50 minutes after the patrol found their bodies, he said. Earlier, several French media reports said a French helicopter had tracked the kidnappers's vehicles after the abduction.

The deaths come four days after France rejoiced at the release of four French citizens held for three years by al Qaida's affiliate in North Africa.

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Malnutrition rising for Malian refugees in Mauritania

A baby is treated in the desert refugee camp in Mbera, Mauritana. Credit: MSF

Malian refugees in Mauritania are enduring "deplorable" conditions in the Mbera refugee camp that is causing levels of malnutrition to increase, according to MSF.

The situation in the camp has worsened since the Frence led military intervention in January, according to the medical aid agency.

Conditions at the camp are so bad that many healthy children are getting ill upon arrival and malnutrition rates have more than doubled. MSF said:

"The number of children admitted per week for severe malnutrition has more than doubled, [...] despite the nutritional status of the new refugees being generally good when assessed on arrival in the camp."

The MSF report, Stranded in the Desert, is based on testimony from more than 100 residents of the Mbera camp, near the border with Mali.

Malian refugees 'enduring appalling conditions'

The Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, home to 70,000 refugees according to UNHCR. Credit: MSF

Thousands of refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict in Mali are facing appalling living conditions in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, according to medical aid agency Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF)

The camp, located in a remote, arid region close to the border with Mali is home to 70,000 people who are relying entirely on aid agencies to meet their most basic needs.

Provisions are "far from adequate" with a desperate shortage of toilets and supplies: In January when MSF arrived there were only four latrines for 12,200 people.

The area suffers from a chronic lack of water and refugees are receiving only 11 litre of water a day in 50C heat - 9 litres less than recommended.

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Mali orders Hollande new camel after first gift is eaten

Francois Hollande received the now late camel when he visited Mali in February. Credit: Julien Tack/ABACAPRESS.COM

Malian officials have been forced to replace the gift of a camel to French President Francois Hollande for his help in confronting Islamist rebels after the first one was eaten.

Mr Hollande was awarded a camel during a visit to the former French colony in February, joking that he would use it back in Paris to escape congestion.

But he apparently learned from his defence minister that the family left to tend his animal in Timbuktu had, in fact, consumed it.

Embarrassed Malian officials quickly pledged to send "a bigger and better-looking camel" to the French capital.

"We are ashamed of what happened to the (first) camel," an official said. "It was a present that did not deserve this fate."

Report: Al-Qaeda-linked group 'killed French hostage'

Al-Qaeda's North African wing AQIM has said it killed a French hostage captured in northern Mali two years ago, Mauritania's ANI news agency said today.

It also reportedly said that other French captives were at risk because of France's intervention in Mali.

"All the other hostages are alive," AQIM said in a communique seemingly addressed to the French people, "but we cannot guarantee their survival forever because of the attacks by your army on the mujahideen's bases."

ANI reported earlier this week that an AQIM member said its fighters beheaded another French hostage called Philippe Verdon, who was seized in northern Mali in November.

Malian army repels attack on northern town of Gao

Mali's army has repulsed an attack by a group of Islamist rebels who slipped past army checkpoints to enter the northern Malian town of Gao, a military official said today.

The Malian army official said government forces had defeated the Islamists after more than two hours of intense fighting. The clashes took place after Gao residents reported a group of Islamists entering their neighbourhood.

No death toll was immediately available.

UK working with Mali to tackle emerging terror threat

The Foreign Secretary saw for himself today what's being done to tackle the threat of terrorism in part of North Africa. William Hague visited the Malian capital, Bamako to speak to the Government and military about how to bring stability to the region. Speaking during his visit, Mr Hague said:

The evolving threat from terrorist groups in Mali has necessitated a urgent international response to help the Malians restore their territorial integrity and deny terrorists a safe haven in their country.

I welcomed the Malian Government's agreement of the political roadmap towards elections and a transition to full democratic rule. I promised that the UK would work with partners in the region, the UN and the EU, to help Mali establish effective arrangements for the elections.

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