A chronology of key events in the west African state of Mali since France sent troops to take on armed Islamist groups occupying the north of its former colony 18 days ago:
-- JANUARY 2013 --
- 10: About 1,200 Islamists capture the government-held central town of Konna and say they will push farther south. Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore asks France for help.
- Witnesses say foreign troops and weapons have begun arriving by transport plane at an army base in Sevare, 70 kilometres (40 miles) south of Konna.
- 11: With French support, Malian government troops launch an offensive against Islamist rebels.
- French President Francois Hollande confirms French troops are actively supporting the offensive.
- 12: French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announces the death of a French helicopter pilot.
- 13: French airstrikes target Islamist bases in the northern regions of Gao and Kidal.
- Algeria has authorised French warplanes to use its airspace for bombing raids on Mali, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says.
- 14: Rebels abandon key northern bases. Residents in the towns of Gao, Douentza and Timbuktu report all Islamists have fled, though a rebel spokesman calls it a "tactical retreat".
- However, Islamists seize the town of Diabaly in government-held territory, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital, Bamako. They vow to "strike at the heart of France".
- 15: France engages ground troops for the first time, to retake Diabaly. Hundreds of soldiers from France and Mali head to the town, which witnesses say is bombarded by French fighter planes.
- Hollande says the French intervention has three objectives -- "ending terrorist attacks", as well as "securing Bamako, where we have thousands of citizens, and help Mali to restore its territorial integrity".
- 16: The crisis takes on a new international dimension with a massive hostage crisis at a gas site in Algeria's remote south-eastern desert, perpetrated by Islamists claiming to avenge France's military intervention in Mali.
- In Mali itself, French troops head towards the north, battling rebels on the ground.
- 17: In Algeria, the army carries out an assault on the gas site, freeing some 600 Algerian hostages, according to the Algerian news agency APS, but killing many hostages, according to a kidnapper.
- Paris announces that some 1,400 French soldiers are deployed on Mali's soil. The number of French troops involved in Operation Serval is expected to reach at least 2,500.
- About 100 Nigerian and Togolese soldiers, the first contingents of the African-led AFISMA force, arrive in Bamako.
- The Malian and French armies retake Konna.
- 19: Algerian special forces storm the remaining part of the gas complex, bringing an end to the four-day hostage drama. At least 37 foreign hostages and one Algerian hostage have been killed, along with 29 hostage-takers.
- West African leaders ask the UN to "immediately" provide money and logistical support for the AFISMA force.
- 20: French troops buttress their position as they prepare the drive north, moving into the key central towns of Niono and Sevare. The French defence minister says the mission's goal is "the total reconquest of Mali".
- The Islamists are reported to be abandoning positions in the centre of the country and converging on the mountainous region of Kidal, their northernmost bastion.
- 21: French and Malian troops recapture the key towns of Diabaly and Douentza.
- Paris says 2,150 French troops are on the ground as US logistical aid begins.
- 22: France directly attacks Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), striking several targets including a "terrorist command centre," according to several French sources.
- 23: Two human rights organisations demand a probe into accusations of abuses carried out by Malian troops, especially against people who look like Arabs or Tuaregs.
- African soldiers head towards the centre of the country. More than 2,300 French troops under Operation Serval are on the ground in Mali.
- 24: A new group, the Islamic Movement of Azawad, announces it has split from Ansar Dine and wants talks to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
- 25: French and Malian troops capture the northern town of Hombori, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the Islamist stronghold of Gao.
- 26: French-led troops recapture Gao after seizing its airport and a key bridge serving the city.
- The Al-Qaeda-linked group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) says it is ready for negotiations to release Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, a French national of Portuguese origin who was kidnapped in western Mali in November.
- Chadian and Niger troops move towards the Malian border and are headed for Gao, according to a security source from Niger.
- 27: French and Malian troops advance toward the fabled town of Timbuktu as French air strikes on another town, Kidal, destroy the home of Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
- Outgoing African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi "salutes" France's intervention in Mali and regrets the AU's slow response to the crisis.
- 28: Malian an French forces recapture Timbuktu where rebels have torched a library containing valuable manuscripts.
A breakaway faction of an Al-Qaeda-linked group and Tuareg rebels confirm joint control of Kidal in northern Mali, the only Islamist bastion left for French-led troops to reconquer.
(France has deployed 2,900 troops and says 2,700 African soldiers are currently on the ground in Mali and Niger. Anticipated African force to comprise 5,700 soldiers from ECOWAS countries and 2,000 additional troops from non-ECOWAS member Chad.)
© 2013 AFP
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