French and Malian armoured columns have rolled unopposed into the central Malian town of Diabaly which was taken by Islamist fighters a week ago.
The rural commune 350km north of the capital, Bamako, had harboured the main cluster of insurgents south of the front line towns of Mopti and Severe, but the Islamist rebels disappeared into the bush to avoid French air strikes.
There have been reports that some of them have abandoned their flowing robes and turbans to blend into the local population which has been through an ordeal in the last few days.
One resident said: We were really in agony here, we were locked up, no travelling, the rebels had invaded the village completely. There was bombing day and night, and shooting, everyone was trapped. We were hungry, we had nothing to eat, there was nothing, nothing at all.”
Euronews journalist François Chignac is embedded with French troops.
He says: “With Diabaly retaken by French troops, the “Serval” operation takes perhaps a new dimension. It protects the western flank of the French and pan-African troops, so they can now, perhaps, think about pushing further north.”