Radical Islamists have fled a key Malian town on foot following French airstrikes that began after they seized Diabaly nearly one week ago, said Malian military and fleeing residents late Saturday.
Malian military spokesman Capt. Modibo Traore said Saturday evening that soldiers had secured the town.
'I am calling all partners of African development ... to make generous contributions to this work of solidarity, peace and security.' —Laurent Fabius. French foreign minister
The departure of the Islamists from Diabaly marks a success for the French-led military intervention that began Jan. 11 to oust the Islamists from northern and central Mali.
Earlier in the week, the Malian military was able to retake another key town, Konna, whose capture had sparked the French intervention.
"The Islamists began leaving the town on foot yesterday heading east," said a Malian intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. "They tried to hijack a car, but the driver didn't stop and they fired on the car and killed the driver."
Canada relocates some diplomats in Mali
Canada's non-essential staff and their families are being relocated from Bamako, Mali, the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced Saturday.
Since the French-led military intervention started Jan. 11, the department has advised against travel to Mali due to political instability, ongoing military clashes, and "the threat of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping in northern Mali," according to a statement.
All Canadians still in Mali are urged by the department to leave immediately, as the Bamako embassy will have limited ability to serve any remaining Canadians.
Speaking Saturday on French 3 television, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Drian said France now has 2,000 troops in Mali.
He said France "could go beyond" the 2,500 troops initially announced for Mali, and said that at full deployment, Operation Serval would involve some 4,000 troops in the region.
Mission, funding concerns delay troops
Meanwhile, France's foreign minister said Saturday that "our African friends need to take the lead" in a military intervention to oust extremists from power in northern Mali, though he acknowledged it could be weeks before neighbours are able to do so. Laurent Fabius spoke at a closely-watched summit in Ivory Coast focusing on ways that African forces can better help Mali as France's military intervention there entered its second week.
"Step by step, I think it's a question from what I heard this morning of some days, some weeks, the African troops will take over," Fabius said in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
Neighbouring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation, which is aimed at preventing the militants who rule northern Mali from advancing further south toward Bamako, the capital.
While some initial contributions from Togo, Nigeria and Benin have arrived to help the French, concerns about the mission have delayed other neighbours from sending their promised troops so far.
Funding for the mission is also an issue.
Fabius said that a donor summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 29 "will be a key event."
"I am calling all partners of African development to come to Addis Ababa and to make generous contributions to this work of solidarity, peace and security both for the region and the continent," he said.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said Saturday that Mali's neighbours must work together to eradicate terrorism in the region. "No other nation in the world, no other region in the world will be spared" if large swaths of the Sahel are allowed to become a 'no man's land,'" he said.
700,000 may be forced to flee, says UN
At Saturday's meeting, leaders were sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.
Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa's most stable democracies with the majority of its 15.8 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam.
That changed last March, following a coup in the capital which created the disarray that allowed Islamist extremists to take over the main cities in the distant north.
The UN refugee agency said Friday that the fighting in Mali could force as many as 700,000 people to flee their homes in the coming months.