(Reuters) - Here is a look at Mali since a military coup paved the way for Islamist rebels to take over the country’s mostly desert north:
March 22, 2012 - Soldiers seize power from President Amadou Toumani Toure as a protest over the government’s ineffective handling of a campaign against northern rebels turns into a coup. The African Union suspends Mali the next day. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo says he is ready for talks with rebels but wants to preserve Mali’s territorial integrity.
March 30 - Tuareg separatist insurgents enter the key town of Kidal in the north after soldiers abandon positions. Sanogo calls for external help against the rebels, who gradually gain control over the northern half of Mali. One week later on April 6, the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), proclaims independence for northern Mali, which it names Azawad, after announcing an end to fighting.
April 8 - President Toure resigns, paving the way for the soldiers who ousted him to stick by a deal to restore civilian rule and hand power to parliamentary speaker Dioncounda Traore. Traore is sworn in three days later.
April 9 - Members of Mali’s Arab community in Timbuktu form the Azawad National Liberation Front, or FLNA, an armed group to fill the void left by the army’s retreat from the north.
May 26 - The Tuareg-led MNLA and Islamist militant group Ansar Dine agree to merge and create an independent state in the north. The Tuaregs ditch the pact a week later.
December 20 - The U.N. Security Council unanimously authorizes the deployment of an African-led military force to help defeat al Qaeda and other Islamist militants in northern Mali. The international African force is not expected to begin operations before September 2013.
Jan 4. 2013 - Ansar Dine says it has suspended a ceasefire agreed with the government the previous month, accusing Bamako of making a mockery of peace talks by gearing up for war. Ansar Dine is one of the main armed groups controlling northern Mali.
January 10 - Mali appeals for urgent military aid from its former colonial master.
January 11 - French President Francois Hollande announces French military intervention to halt advances by the rebels and French air strikes help Malian government troops drive Islamist rebels from the strategic central town of Konna.
January 24 - Ansar Dine, which helped seize the north from Mali’s government, splits from its al Qaeda allies and says it wants a truce.
Jan 26 - Following French air strikes, French and Malian troops seize the town of Gao, one of three major northern towns occupied by rebels last year.
Jan 27 - French and Malian troops begin to restore government control over Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The third town, Kidal, remains in rebel hands.
Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit