As the dramatic hostage siege unfolded in Algeria – where extremists took hundreds captive in a gas field to retaliate for the week-old French operation in Mali, sparking a deadly commando raid – fighting has continued unabated on the ground in Mali.
French and Malian troops scored two victories over the rebels on Friday after days of fighting in Konna, a key town about 700 kilometres (400 miles) from Bamako, and in Diabaly which is 400 kilometres north of the capital of the sprawling country.
"We have wrested total control of Konna after inflicting heavy losses on the enemy," the Malian army said in a brief statement.
Colonel Didier Dakouo, head of the Malian forces based in Sevare, south of Konna, told AFP his troops had "crushed the enemy."
A security source said Malian soldiers were backed by French air strikes to ease their entry into the town.
French and government troops take back key town
In Diabaly, which the Islamist militants had seized on Monday even as their bases were pounded by French fighter jets, local sources reported the rebels had been driven out.
"Diabaly is freed, the Islamists have left and the French and Malian troops have entered the town," said a member of the local municipal council. Her statement was confirmed by a regional security source.
The rebels' retreat coincided with a demand from veteran Algerian Islamist Mohktar Belmokhtar for talks to end the French campaign against extremists controlling the north of Mali.
Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian jihadist with Al-Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday's attack on an Algerian gas complex.
A source close to him told Mauritania's ANI news agency that a video would be distributed to the media proposing that "France and Algeria negotiate an end to the war being waged by France in Azawad", or northern Mali.
The French military operation started a week ago and was prompted by the fall of Konna to rebels amid fears they would push south to the capital Bamako from their northern stronghold.
Paris says it already has 1,400 soldiers in Mali, set to increase to 2,500,while regional powers have pledged some 5,800 troops for an African military force.