On Tuesday interim President Dioncounda Traore said he hoped to hold "transparent and credible" elections by July 31. Mali's parliament unanimously approved government proposals to start talks with "armed groups which do not threaten either the integrity or the secular nature" of the state.
French troops were at the gates of the last major city in northern Mali still outside their control early Wednesday after their forces landed at the airport in Kidal, local sources said. "We confirm that French aircraft are on the Kidal landing strip and that protection helicopters are in the sky," said a regional security source and a senior Tuareg figure in Kidal also confirmed the report.
A spokesman for the Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA), which recently announced it had taken control of Kidal, said the French had landed there. "Our leader is currently talking with them."
Kidal lies 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako and until recently was controlled by the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).
By Catherine Norris-Trent in Bamako, Mali.
LATEST NEWS - Watch the latest breaking news and information on the latest top stories, international, business, entertainment, politics, and more. With our correspondents all over the world in the field.
FRANCE 24 INTERNATIONAL NEWS 24/7http://www.france24.com