A spokesman for Mali's Islamist rebels claimed that they had seized control of the central city of Konna today, encroaching further on government-held territory.
Sanda Abu Mohammed, spokesman of the Ansar Dine rebels, said that the insurgents had pushed into the city after initially repulsing an army attack on Wednesday evening.
He added that Tuareg fighters had captured some army soldiers following several hours of heavy weapons fire, before moving onto Konna.
The capture of the city, which has a population of 50,000 people, is 435 miles north-east of the capital Bamako, marks a significant push by the rebels to Mali's center.
A Mali army spokesman refused to comment on Konna but a soldier, who refused to give his name because he was not authorised to speak, said the army had retreated from Konna to the town of Sevare.
Local residents said the government air force is sending out planes to battle the rebels from Sevare's military airport.
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