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French, Malian troops enter Diabaly as rebels vanish

French and Malian troops have entered the town of Diabaly in central Mali as they continue their push north to combat Islamist rebels. The development comes as foreign countries offer support for the military operation.

A column of about 30 armored vehicles transporting some 300 French and Malian troops entered Diabaly early Monday after the Islamist rebel forces previously controlling the town disappeared.

"French and Malian forces have advanced to Diabaly, and they will continue their mission of securing the town," the deputy commander of Malian forces in nearby Niono, who gave his name only as Captain Samasa, told the Reuters news agency.

The town, located 400 km (250 miles) from the capital Bamako, had been the target of air strikes and fighting since rebels seized it a week ago.

French TV footage had shown charred trucks abandoned by the rebels amid mud brick homes. One resident said that the rebels had already fled the town, along with many of its residents, and those remaining lacked food and other essentials.

Russia, Canada offer support

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday that Russia had offered to help transport French troops and supplies to Mali and Canada had offered to help to assist African troops with transport.

Fabius told Europe 1 radio that "there is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians," adding that the Russians "have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it's fairly diverse."

Fabius calls for funding

"It is vital that the maximum number of countries worldwide contribute" to the effort, Fabius said. A donors' conference is set to be held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on January 29.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday responded to the appeal, promising extra aid but did not set an amount.

"The African troops need financial aid. During the donors' conference in Addis Ababa at the end of the month, Germany will assume its responsibilities," he wrote in the Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag.

So far, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have offered non-combat support.

dr/rg  (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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