French president to visit Mali this weekend
February 1, 2013 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
- In addition to major cities, Francois Hollande plans to visit the historical city of Timbuktu
- Timbuktu, once overrun by militants, is now under control of Malian forces
- The French-led offensive to flush out militants in northern Mali started on January 10
(CNN) -- French President Francois Hollande will travel to Mali on Saturday, where his nation's troops have been battling Islamist militants for three weeks alongside African forces.
Hollande will be accompanied by his defense and foreign ministers, the president's office said in a statement Friday.
READ: Mali plans July elections as it makes gains in battle against militants
In addition to major cities, he will also visit the historical city of Timbuktu, which French and Malian troops seized from militants who had controlled it since last year.
His office did not provide any other details.
Malian soldiers transport in a pickup truck a dozen suspected Islamist rebels on Friday, February 8, after arresting them north of Gao. A suicide bomber blew himself up on February 8 near a group of Malian soldiers in the northern city, where Islamist rebels driven from the town have resorted to guerilla attacks.
Photos: Fighting Islamists in Mali
Suspected Islamists attacked in Gao
France to hand Mali war to Africans
Preserving Timbuktu's treasures
What led to Mali's disintegration?
READ: French military says troops control airport in key Malian city
The visit comes as troops make major gains in the battle to push out militants in northern Mali.
France, Mali's former colonial power, is leading the offensive after militants captured the vast northern desert region, raising fears they would turn it into a haven for terrorists.
French-led troops now control the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, along with a swath in between that was an Islamist stronghold for almost a year, the French Defense Ministry said.
READ: French president on military offensive: 'We are winning in Mali'
France sent troops at Mali's request after Islamists seized the strategic town of Konna on January 10. The town is now back in Malian control.
Islamic extremists carved out a large portion of the north last year, taking advantage of a chaotic situation after a military coup.
They banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and destroyed historic tombs and shrines in the region.
But with the French-led offensive sending the militants on the run, residents are once again roaming the streets without fear.
READ: What's behind the instability in Mali?
France has 2,150 soldiers in Mali and 1,000 more troops supporting the operation from elsewhere. West African forces are expected to battle the militants alongside French troops.
NATO said it does not plan to join the offensive.
"The United Nations Security Council has decided that it should be an African-led mission," said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general. "And this is also a reason why I don't see a role for NATO as an organization in Mali or in the region. But obviously, I welcome that individual NATO allies have taken action and decided to support the French operation in Mali."
Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore has said his nation will hold elections by the end of July.
READ: U.S. steps up involvement in Mali
CNN's Sarah Jones contributed to this report.
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
Conflict in Mali
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
Restoring territorial integrity of Mali is more than bombing Islamist hideouts.
January 16, 2013 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The world is responding to an uprising of Islamist militants, hoping to inject stability in a country once hailed as a model for democracy in Africa.
January 24, 2013 -- Updated 2251 GMT (0651 HKT)
Nima Elbagir talks with victims of war and displaced people from Gao now living in Mali's capital.
January 17, 2013 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
After intense airstrikes against rebel strongholds, French ground forces are moving north to try to dislodge the fighters.
March 13, 2013 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Residents of Gao, Mali, celebrate their town's liberation from rebel rule.
January 28, 2013 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
The offensive against Islamist militants gained further ground as French and Malian forces reportedly took control of the airport in ancient Timbuktu.
January 15, 2013 -- Updated 1827 GMT (0227 HKT)
France intervenes according to doctrine and the pragmatic parameters of circumstance, says the president of the Institut des Ameriques.
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 2307 GMT (0707 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reports on the conflict in Mali, how the country got to this point and what the international reaction means.
July 27, 2012 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda have seized northern Mali, and there are widespread concerns that the region could soon become a terrorist haven.
January 26, 2013 -- Updated 0325 GMT (1125 HKT)
Erin Burnett discusses al Qaeda involvement in the Algeria attack and how the U.S. will deal them in northern Africa.
January 28, 2013 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
The United States is intensifying its involvement in Mali, where local and French forces are battling Islamic militants.
January 15, 2013 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
CNN's Erin Burnett reports on the situation in northern Mali and its consequences for U.S. homeland security. Watch to find out more.
January 12, 2013 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
French troops face fierce combat against Islamist militants in Mali and in Somalia during a failed rescue attempt.
February 9, 2013 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
As Mali military braces against Islamist insurgents and French military strikes targeted Islamist rebels, both sides are determined to win.
July 4, 2012 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
The Old Mostar Bridge, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and now the Timbuktu. Once again, culture is under attack, UNESCO's Irina Bokova writes.
November 11, 2012 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
African leaders hold an emergency summit to discuss plans to rid Mali of Islamic extremists accused of atrocities.