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STORY: Charred remnants of destroyed buildings and Islamists' tanks were some of the most visible signs of recent fighting in the town of Diabaly in central Mali, which was secured by French and Malian troops on Monday.
Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Bamako, had harboured the main cluster of rebels south of the front-line towns of Mopti and Sevare until French air strikes forced them to flee or attempt to blend in with locals.
Residents said about 200 Islamist fighters had held them captive for three days and used them as human shields against French air strikes.
In total, about eight rebel vehicles were destroyed across town during the air strikes, according to people living in the town.
Rebels abandoned several weapons and ammunitions when they eventually abandoned their posts in Diabaly.
France has now deployed 2,150 ground troops and its war planes have pounded rebel columns and bases for a total of 10 days, turning back an Islamist advance towards the riverside capital which Paris said would have toppled Mali's government.
France now aims, with international support, to dislodge the Islamists from Mali's vast desert north, an area the size of Texas, before they use it to launch attacks on the West.
The mayor of Diabaly said there was no medicine left in the frontline town after rebel fighters broke into offices and ransacked each of the town's pharmacies.
France and Malian forces are awaiting troops from nearby African nations, pouring into Bamako, to deploy to the front line.