French, Mali forces head toward Timbuktu

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Malian people welcome French soldiers as they arrive in the city of Sevare, Mali, some 620 kms (385 miles) north of Bamako, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Mali\'s military and French forces pushed toward Gao on Friday, in their farthest move north and east since launching an operation two weeks ago to retake land controlled by the rebels, residents and a security official said Friday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)


SEVARE, Mali (AP) — A Malian military spokesman says French and Malian troops are patrolling the critically important city of Gao in northern Mali.

Lt. Col. Diarran Kone, a spokesman for Mali's defense minister, said Sunday that the forces have maintained their hold over a key bridge as well as the airport.

The French military announced on Saturday that Gao had been liberated from radical Islamist rule, though other officials said the fight was still in progress late Saturday.

The taking of Gao's airport marked the biggest advance yet in the effort to retake the north. The Islamists also have controlled the towns of Timbuktu and Kidal since last April.

French and Malian forces were also advancing toward Timbuktu on Sunday.