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STORY: French President Francois Hollande arrived in Malian capital Bamako on Saturday, at the end of a one-day trip to the Sahel nation.
Hollande and Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore held talks in Timbuktu and then flew to Bamako where the two will attend a ceremony at the monument of independence.
Hollande has said that the French operation, which has 3,500 soldiers on Malian soil backed by warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, aims to make way eventually for a U.N.-backed African force, which is still being deployed.
Drawn mostly from Mali's West African neighbors, this force is expected to number more than 8,000. But its deployment has been badly hampered by shortages of kit and airlift capacity and questions about who will fund the estimated $1 billion cost.
France's role in Mali has raised fears of reprisal attacks by Islamist radicals against French and other Westerners.