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French troops deployed in northern Mali to help push back an offensive by Islamist rebels hand over control of the town of Timbuktu to the Malian army.
"The 600 soldiers currently based in Timbuktu will be heading toward Gao in order to pursue their mission," said French military spokeswoman Captain Nadia.
The move comes after French troops took control of key cities in the northern part of the West African country, forcing the rebels to retreat into the desert.
The intervention will now target fighters' desert outposts to prevent them from launching a guerrilla-type conflict and from using their retreats as bases for international terrorism.