Diabaly: French and Malian troops on Monday entered the central Malian town of Diabaly, which has been the theatre of airstrikes and fighting since being seized by Islamist fighters a week ago, an AFP journalist witnessed.
A convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles carrying some 200 French and Malian soldiers moved into the town at about 9am (local and GMT), without meeting resistance.
French soldiers from the 21st Marine Infantry Regiment as well as parachutists and Malian troops entered the town after reconaissance flights by Gazelle helicopters, said an AFP reporter with the soldiers.
They had set out at dawn from the town of Niono, which is 60 kilometers south of Diabaly in Malian government-held territory.
Army commanders expressed fears that Islamists fleeing the town had planted landmines.
After heavy fighting in Diabaly over the past week there was uncertainty over whether all the Islamists had fled the town.
French Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday that Diabaly, which is 400 kilometres north of the capital Bamako, had not yet been retaken by the Malian army.
“Everything indicates that the evolution of Diabaly will be positive in the coming hours,” he added.
On Saturday the Malian army patrolled the periphery of the town, where the situation was “not very clear,” according to a French officer based in Niono.
“In theory the rebel fighters have left the town,” he said, but added they were both determined and mobile.
A colonel in the Malian army said that a “fringe of the Diabaly population adheres to the jihadists’ theories and we must be very careful in the coming hours.”