French, Mali Forces Head Toward Timbuktu

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French and Malian forces pushed toward the fabled desert town of Timbuktu on Sunday, as the two-week-long French mission gathered momentum against the Islamist extremists who have ruled the north for more than nine months.

So far the French forces have met little resistance, though it remains unclear what battles may await them farther north. The Malian military blocked dozens of international journalists from trying to travel toward Timbuktu.

Lt. Col. Diarran Kone, a spokesman for Mali's defense minister, declined to give details Sunday about the advance on Timbuktu citing the security of an ongoing operation.

Timbuktu's mayor, Ousmane Halle, is in the capital, Bamako, and he told The Associated Press he had no information about the remote town, where phone lines have been cut for days.

A convoy of about 15 vehicles transporting international journalists also was blocked Sunday afternoon in Konna, some 186 miles (300 kilometers) south of Timbuktu.

The move on Timbuktu comes a day after the French announced they had seized the airport and a key bridge in Gao, one of the other northern provincial capitals under the grip of radical Islamists.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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