Fighting came to Bangui just as U.N. authorized a French and African intervention force to prevent bloodbath between Christians and Muslims.
As France launches commemorations for next year's hundredth anniversary of WWI, President Hollande says that no soldier should be 'forgotten'.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius says the killing of two French journalists in Kidal will not affect timetable of the withdrawal of French troops.
France, whose troops this year halted an Islamist assault towards Mali's capital, is now in demand from another of its former African colonies.
Gun battle in northern Mali comes as simmering violence threatens security at November elections and is set to delay French troop withdrawal.
Authorities had been searching for Gilles Le Guen since October when he published a video in which he warned France not to interfere in Mali.
Paris aims to complete withdrawal of 3,000 soldiers this year and keep a permanent 1,000-strong force to support U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Force of 1,000 soldiers has begun a sweep of a river valley thought to be a logistics base for armed Islamists near the Malian city of Gao.
Many in northern Mali who lived under rebel rule last year are worried about French plans to leave just 1,000 troops in the country by December.
French and Malian troops were engaged this weekend in a battle with Islamist rebels who resurfaced in the northern Mali town of Timbuktu.
Paris sends in more troops to secure international airport as rebels clash with government forces in captal of the mineral-rich former French colony.
Abou Zeid, who was a senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed during fighting in northern Mali at the end of February.
The victim was a French corporal who was tracking down jihadist fighters in their northern Mali mountain bastions, officials said.
The 26 year-old paratrooper, killed fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali, is third French soldier to die since the intervention began in January.
French President Francois Hollande has said his country's forces are engaged in the "final phase" of the fight against militants in northern Mali.