French troops enter Mali's Diabaly as Islamists vanish

NIONO, Mali Mon Jan 21, 2013 4:56am EST

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NIONO, Mali (Reuters) - A column of French and Malian armored personnel carriers and supply trucks moved north into the central Malian town of Diabaly early on Monday after the Islamist rebels who were controlling it melted away, security sources said.

Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Bamako, had harbored the main cluster of rebels south of the front-line towns of Mopti and Sevare until French airstrikes forced them to flee or attempt to blend in with locals, residents said.

"French and Malian forces have advanced to Diabaly and they will continue their mission of securing the town," the deputy commander of Malian forces in nearby Niono, who gave his name only as Captain Samasa, told Reuters. Another security source confirmed the information on condition of anonymity.

(Reporting by Bate Felix and Adama Diarra; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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