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French troops prepare to welcome UN peacekeepers in northern Mali city of Gao

France's top military chief says troops have begun withdrawing from part of the airport in the northern Malian city of Gao to make room for a United Nations peacekeeping force expected to deploy July 1.

Admiral Edouard Guillaud said during a visit to Gao that African and French troops already deployed in the city would ensure a smooth transition to the peacekeeping force, whose July 1 deployment was approved by the Security Council Tuesday.

Gao was among the cities overtaken by Islamic radicals following a coup in Mali last year. The extremists were driven out when France intervened in January.

The transition to a U.N. force was the top agenda item for a meeting of defense chiefs from the West African regional body ECOWAS that began Wednesday in Accra, Ghana.