Jan. 21 - French and Malian troops slowly advance through northern Mali, retaking Diabaly, as Islamists retreat, but some locals fear the militants may end up hiding in their villages. Sarah Sheffer reports.
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The town of Niono used to be a sleepy villiage-- before it became a military base for French and Malian troops.
The soldiers bring relief -- and much-needed bustle to local markets.
But as French air strikes in neighbouring Diabaly send Islamists fleeing, Niono residents are now worried these retreating militants will hide in their villages.
Islamists are reported to be abandoning vehicles, shaving beards and removing their turbans and traditional flowing dress to blend in with locals.
(SOUNDBITE) (French) IBRAHIM TRAORE, OFFICE WORKER, SAYING:
"In our area we are not used to wearing a turban. It's towards the north that they wrap their heads in turbans, but towards the south generally people don't wear it, so when you see someone with a turban you may think he's a jihadist."
But others say there is no way to tell who comes from the region and who is hiding.
French and Malian troops are cautiously advancing into northern Mali amid fears of an ambush by al Qaeda-linked fighters.
A column of French and Malian armour and supplies re-took Diabaly early on Monday.
The military operation has turned back an Islamist advance that threatened to topple Mali's government.
France now aims, with international support, to dislodge the Islamists from Mali's vast desert north before they use it to launch attacks on the West.