French troops reportedly took the Malian town of Kidal today, the last large town that had been held by Islamist militants in the country's north.
The week-old fight by the former colonial power supported by regional forces looks to have achieved its immediate aims.
But the Islamist rebels who seized the cities last year are thought to have retreated to nearby mountains, from which they could wage a long and bloody insurgency against the Malian army and foreign occupiers.
The French Foreign Ministry urged Mali's government to open "legitimate representatives of the people in the north" as secular Tuareg separatists - who were in league with the Islamists last year - indicated a desire for peace.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien newspaper that France would "leave quickly" and "now it's up to African countries to take over."