Bodies of peacekeepers killed in Mali return home

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - The families of two Senegalese peacekeepers killed by suspected Islamic extremists in Mali this week gathered in the Senegalese capital Thursday for a ceremony honoring their sacrifice.

The soldiers died Saturday when a truck loaded with explosives detonated in front of a bank in the northern Malian city of Kidal, which was being guarded by a Senegalese unit of United Nations peacekeepers.

Fatoumata Diakhate, the 65-year-old mother of Corporal Ousmane Fall, said she boarded a public bus at midnight and travelled until dawn to reach the Senegalese capital in time to see her son one last time. Overcome with emotion, she was allowed just 25 minutes to be with her son's remains at the municipal morgue, before she and the other family members were asked to leave. "I felt a profound pain," she said, leaning on her 13-year-old granddaughter, who helped her out the door.

Fall's body, as well as that of his fallen colleague, Cheikh Tidiane Sarr, were taken in a hearse to a military camp in Dakar for a somber ceremony, before being driven to the airport. Their remains are being repatriated to their hometowns in the Senegalese interior by special flights.

The Senegalese army has sent three companies, totaling around 500 soldiers, to help secure the troubled nation of Mali, which was invaded by a branch of al-Qaida last year. They join troops from Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Ivory Coast who make-up the 5,700 United Nations peacekeeping force, according to spokesman Frederic Fath.

The peacekeepers are expected to eventually replace the French forces that were deployed in January to flush out the extremists.

Analysts have long warned that the African troops don't have the training needed to keep Mali secure if the French forces were to leave. Last month, two French journalists were abducted and executed by the extremists from the same northern city of Kidal. The assailants succeeded in taking them out of the city, despite the fact that all of its entrances are supposed to be guarded by U.N. peacekeepers.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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