World Bulletin / News Desk
French and Malian troops were on Sunday restoring government control over the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, the latest gain in a fast-moving French-led offensive against fighters holding northern Mali.
The rebels have pulled back northwards to avoid relentless French air strikes that have destroyed their bases, vehicles and weapons, allowing French and Malian troops to advance rapidly with air support and armoured vehicles.
A Malian military source told Reuters the French and Malian forces reached "the gates of Timbuktu" late on Saturday without meeting resistance from the insurgents who had held the town since last year.
The advancing troops were working on securing the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and labyrinth of ancient mosques and monuments and mud-brick homes.
"Timbuktu is delicate, you can't just go in like that," the source, who asked not to be named, said.
On Saturday, the French-Malian offensive recaptured Gao, which along with Timbuktu was one of three major northern towns occupied last year by Tuareg and rebels.
The third town, Kidal, remains in rebel hands.
One Timbuktu resident now outside the town said a friend inside had sent him SMS messages saying he had seen government troops on the streets, but gave no more details.
GAO MAYOR BACK IN OFFICE
Malian government control was restored in Gao on Saturday, after French special forces backed by warplanes and helicopters seized the town's airport and a key bridge. Around a dozen rebels were killed in the assault, while French forces suffered no losses or injuries, France's defence ministry said.
Officials said the mayor of Gao, Sadou Diallo, who had taken refuge in Bamako, had been reinstalled at the head of the local administration while French, Malian, Chadian and Nigerien troops secured the town and the surrounding area.
As the French and Malian troops push into northern Mali, African troops from a continental intervention force expected to number 7,700 are being flown into the country, despite delays due to logistical problems and the lack of airlift capacity.Last Mod: 27 Ocak 2013, 16:34