President François Hollande has just become involved in a large-scale war in Mali. Already some 800 French troops are on the ground in the African country, with the number expected to increase to 2,500 in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile French aircraft have been carrying out strikes across the country. President Hollande sent in the troops last Friday, January 11th, after Mali's interim president made an urgent plea for help as Islamic rebels headed towards the country's capital. However, argues Mediapart's editor François Bonnet, the intervention has taken place in an impromptu manner, with shifting objectives, an unclear timetable and after having deliberately ignored the complex processes of political negotiations. As a result, he says, France finds itself alone without its European allies in a country that has completely fallen apart.
Convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles has set out from capital Bamako for Diabaly, 350km to the north, a town captured by the rebels.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he hopes the intervention will help restore "Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity".
The rapidity of the intervention in Mali has revealed a man capable of bold and dangerous decisions but the fallout is potentially enormous.
Britain will provide transport planes to assist the French military operation in Mali, as France attempts to contain al Qaeda-linked rebels.
French president orders security to be stepped up around public buildings and transport because of military operations in Africa.
Arrival of the French forces dramatically ups stakes in conflict in a swath of lawless desert where terrorism and kidnapping have flourished.
However, French president says they would only act under UN authorisation to stop Islamist militants who control northern Mali.
Plea comes in wake of successful offensive by extremist and terrorist groups who control the northern half of the country and are heading south.
President Hollande confirms reports that a French citizen has been kidnapped in south-west Mali, outside a zone controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants.
Morocco and France call on the African Union and Economic Community of West African States to prepare action against Malian Islamists.
The name Timbuktu has taken on an almost mythical status in Western thought, one fuelled by the remoteness of the town in Mali. In destroying tombs recently in this “pearl of the desert” an Islamist group has both launched an attack on the holy sites of other Muslims and thrown down a challenge to the West, who recently put the famous town on the UNESCO list of endangered World Heritage sites. In an interview with Joseph Confavreux, French historian Charles Grémont gives the background to current events in Mali and the threat posed to Timbuktu.