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French forces advance on Timbuktu

French-led troops were advancing on Timbuktu on Sunday (January 27th) after capturing a string of other towns in their offensive against Islamist militant groups in the north of the country, AFP reported.

French air strikes destroyed the home of Ansar al-Din chief Iyad Ag Ghaly in Kidal overnight. The air raids come 24 hours after French and Malian troops seized Gao.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the troops were currently "around Gao and (will be) soon near Timbuktu".

Gao was under the control of the al-Qaeda-linked Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). MUJAO said on Saturday it was ready to negotiate the release of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez Leal. "The MUJAO is ready to negotiate the release of Gilberto," MUJAO spokesperson Walid Abu Sahraoui told AFP by telephone.

Meanwhile, African leaders were meeting in Addis Ababa on Sunday to discuss increasing the number of African troops to Mali.

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