Cyprus offers assault rifles to help Mali fight

AP News
Posted: Feb 01, 2013 1:53 PM

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A spokeswoman for Cyprus' Defense Ministry says the country is offering 2,364 assault rifles to an African-led military force to fight Islamic extremists in Mali.

Elena Fysentzou says the Zastava assault rifles, currently in storage, can be "immediately available."

Fysentzou said Friday that the Yugoslav-made weapons, which fire a 7.62 mm cartridge, may be delivered "as soon as possible" but could not be more specific.

French-led forces have ousted al-Qaida-linked militants from northern Mali, including the three northern provincial capitals of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, following a three-week campaign.

But the militants have escaped with their weapons into the vast surrounding desert and it's feared that they are poised to mount counterattacks on the cities.

The Malian army and other African troops are expected to take over from the French.