Kenya 'grateful' for French intervention in Mali

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, in an exclusive interview with AFP, on Monday expressed his gratitude towards France for its military intervention against Islamist extremists in Mali.

The French military operation complements the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States whose members have pledged to send troops to help Malian forces oust Islamist fighters.

"ECOWAS has intervened there. The French intervention there is basically a complement to the efforts of ECOWAS to push back the extremists and to create peace and civil order," Odinga said in an interview at his office.

Islamists seized northern Mali, a territory the size of France, in the wake of last year's March 22 coup which ousted democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure.

Odinga, who is widely tipped to win Kenya's March 4 presidential election, said he was sorry that a French commando operation aimed at freeing a French hostage held by Islamist extremists in Somalia had failed.

He said Kenya, which borders Somalia and sent troops there last year to combat Al Qaeda-linked militia, had supported the raid.

Kenya has had several thousand troops in Somalia since October 2011 where they have been fighting Shebab Islamists, whom Nairobi accuses of carrying out a series of kidnappings and attacks on Kenyan soil.

The same Islamists had been holding a French intelligence agent with the pseudonym of Denis Allex for more than three years.

A rescue operation on Saturday resulted in the death of two French soldiers and 17 Islamist fighters, according to Paris, who said Allex was most likely shot by his captors during the assault.

The Shebab have denied this but have not so far produced any proof that their prisoner is still alive.