A French force of 1,000 soldiers in a major offensive has swept a valley thought to be a logistics base for Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists near the Malian city of Gao.
Malian troops swept Timbuktu for remaining Islamist fighters after a weekend battle that left seven dead and forced France to dispatch reinforcements and fighter jets to help Mali's army.
The 4,000 French soldiers deployed in Mali to fight Islamist rebels will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of the year.
Britain, Italy and Greece on Sunday said that a claim by a Nigerian Islamist group that it had killed seven foreign hostages appeared to be true, while London denied it had sought to stage a rescue.
Claiming to have killed two Islamist leaders in the Mali conflict so far, Chad is emerging as a regional superpower whose strong army is brushing up the image of what was once most known as one of the world's poorest nations.
In northern Mali, the country's army frequently turns to torture and murder against people suspected of backing armed Islamist groups.
France has bombed an Islamist rebel hideout in northern Mali's largest city, intensifying a security lock-down against guerrilla attacks as the French-led campaign entered its second month.
Islamist gunmen attacked the largest city in northern Mali on Sunday following two straight days of suicide bombings, intensifying their insurgency on territory reclaimed by French-led forces.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he is worried by a guerrilla fightback in Mali and that no firm decision has been made to send a peacekeeping force there.
French fighter jets have pounded Islamist supply bases in northern Mali seeking to flush the insurgents out of hiding, as France and the US on Monday called for African troops to quickly take over the operation.
Timbuktu has been part of three empires, survived invasions and had countless rulers, and it met its 10-month occupation by Islamist extremists with the stoicism of a city that has seen centuries of history.
Mali's interim president ruled out talks with Islamist groups who ruled the north for nine months, but said he was ready to meet Tuareg activists from the region.
French troops were at the gates of the last major city in northern Mali still outside their control early Wednesday after their forces landed at the airport in Kidal.
Huge crowds were expected to demonstrate in Egypt on Friday for the second anniversary of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak and brought in an Islamist government, at a time of political tensions and economic woes.
The White House and the US Defense Department are at odds over the danger posed by radical Islamic groups that have taken control of parts of Mali and are stirring up trouble in other parts of West Africa.
Western governments voiced alarm over the fate of dozens of foreigners seized by Islamists at a gas plant in the Algerian desert after several hostages were killed in a dramatic rescue operation.
Somali Islamists claimed Saturday that a French commando unit had botched an attempt overnight to free a hostage in southern Somalia, leaving several dead.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday ordered sanctions against an Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group in a new sign of the tougher line being taken with militants who have taken over much of the Mali.
Chief regional mediator Blaise Compaore will meet Mali's Ansar Dine Islamists and Tuareg rebels together for the first time on Friday, amid calls for urgent dialogue to resolve the crisis in northern Mali.
The African Union has endorsed a plan for military intervention to regain control of Mali's desert north from Islamist rebels and restore the authority of the state.
- Middle East & Africa
- Great Britain
- Ban Ki-moon
- Hosni Mubarak
- United States
- United Nations
- African Union