Skip to main content

French president to visit Mali this weekend

From Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
updated 7:33 AM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
  • In addition to major cities, Francois Hollande plans to visit the historical city of Timbuktu
  • Timbuktu, once overrun by militants, is now under control of Malian forces
  • The French-led offensive to flush out militants in northern Mali started on January 10

(CNN) -- French President Francois Hollande will travel to Mali on Saturday, where his nation's troops have been battling Islamist militants for three weeks alongside African forces.

Hollande will be accompanied by his defense and foreign ministers, the president's office said in a statement Friday.

READ: Mali plans July elections as it makes gains in battle against militants

In addition to major cities, he will also visit the historical city of Timbuktu, which French and Malian troops seized from militants who had controlled it since last year.

His office did not provide any other details.

Malian soldiers transport in a pickup truck a dozen suspected Islamist rebels on Friday, February 8, after arresting them north of Gao. A suicide bomber blew himself up on February 8 near a group of Malian soldiers in the northern city, where Islamist rebels driven from the town have resorted to guerilla attacks. Malian soldiers transport in a pickup truck a dozen suspected Islamist rebels on Friday, February 8, after arresting them north of Gao. A suicide bomber blew himself up on February 8 near a group of Malian soldiers in the northern city, where Islamist rebels driven from the town have resorted to guerilla attacks.
Photos: Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Photos: Fighting Islamists in Mali Photos: Fighting Islamists in Mali
Suspected Islamists attacked in Gao
France to hand Mali war to Africans
Preserving Timbuktu's treasures
What led to Mali's disintegration?

READ: French military says troops control airport in key Malian city

The visit comes as troops make major gains in the battle to push out militants in northern Mali.

France, Mali's former colonial power, is leading the offensive after militants captured the vast northern desert region, raising fears they would turn it into a haven for terrorists.

French-led troops now control the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, along with a swath in between that was an Islamist stronghold for almost a year, the French Defense Ministry said.

READ: French president on military offensive: 'We are winning in Mali'

France sent troops at Mali's request after Islamists seized the strategic town of Konna on January 10. The town is now back in Malian control.

Islamic extremists carved out a large portion of the north last year, taking advantage of a chaotic situation after a military coup.

They banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and destroyed historic tombs and shrines in the region.

But with the French-led offensive sending the militants on the run, residents are once again roaming the streets without fear.

READ: What's behind the instability in Mali?

France has 2,150 soldiers in Mali and 1,000 more troops supporting the operation from elsewhere. West African forces are expected to battle the militants alongside French troops.

NATO said it does not plan to join the offensive.

"The United Nations Security Council has decided that it should be an African-led mission," said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general. "And this is also a reason why I don't see a role for NATO as an organization in Mali or in the region. But obviously, I welcome that individual NATO allies have taken action and decided to support the French operation in Mali."

Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore has said his nation will hold elections by the end of July.

READ: U.S. steps up involvement in Mali

CNN's Sarah Jones contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Conflict in Mali
updated 1:02 PM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
Restoring territorial integrity of Mali is more than bombing Islamist hideouts.
updated 10:38 AM EST, Wed January 16, 2013
The world is responding to an uprising of Islamist militants, hoping to inject stability in a country once hailed as a model for democracy in Africa.
updated 5:51 PM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Nima Elbagir talks with victims of war and displaced people from Gao now living in Mali's capital.
updated 6:20 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
After intense airstrikes against rebel strongholds, French ground forces are moving north to try to dislodge the fighters.
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Wed March 13, 2013
Residents of Gao, Mali, celebrate their town's liberation from rebel rule.
updated 10:40 AM EST, Mon January 28, 2013
Sankore mosque, built in 15th-16th centuries , Timbuktu city, Timbuktu region, Mali.
The offensive against Islamist militants gained further ground as French and Malian forces reportedly took control of the airport in ancient Timbuktu.
updated 1:27 PM EST, Tue January 15, 2013
France intervenes according to doctrine and the pragmatic parameters of circumstance, says the president of the Institut des Ameriques.
updated 6:07 PM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
CNN's Nima Elbagir reports on the conflict in Mali, how the country got to this point and what the international reaction means.
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda have seized northern Mali, and there are widespread concerns that the region could soon become a terrorist haven.
updated 10:25 PM EST, Fri January 25, 2013
Erin Burnett discusses al Qaeda involvement in the Algeria attack and how the U.S. will deal them in northern Africa.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Mon January 28, 2013
The United States is intensifying its involvement in Mali, where local and French forces are battling Islamic militants.
updated 7:33 PM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
CNN's Erin Burnett reports on the situation in northern Mali and its consequences for U.S. homeland security. Watch to find out more.
updated 5:08 PM EST, Sat January 12, 2013
French troops face fierce combat against Islamist militants in Mali and in Somalia during a failed rescue attempt.
updated 10:15 PM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
As Mali military braces against Islamist insurgents and French military strikes targeted Islamist rebels, both sides are determined to win.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Wed July 4, 2012
Islamist militants destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on July 1, 2012.
The Old Mostar Bridge, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and now the Timbuktu. Once again, culture is under attack, UNESCO's Irina Bokova writes.
updated 2:03 PM EST, Sun November 11, 2012
African leaders hold an emergency summit to discuss plans to rid Mali of Islamic extremists accused of atrocities.