French help secure Timbuktu access

French and Malian forces have taken control of access to Timbuktu, a French military spokesman said today.

Colonel Thierry Burkhard said French paratroopers and helicopters backed ground forces to gain control of Timbuktu airport and roads into the desert town overnight and to allow Malian forces to move in on the stronghold of al Qaida-linked Islamist extremists.

The advance came as French and African ground troops seized a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern city of Gao.

The Islamists seized control of the north after a military coup last March created chaos. So far the French have met little resistance though it remains to be seen whether the Malians can maintain control of the towns.

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