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Mali conflict: French set for key ground combat

15 January 2013 Last updated at 22:39 GMT

French troops are set for their first major ground combat with Islamist rebels in Mali after heading out from the capital, Bamako.

A convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles set out on Tuesday for Diabaly, 350km (220 miles) to the north, a town captured by the rebels the day before.

The first units of an African force are set to arrive on Wednesday to bolster the French.

France intervened last Friday to halt the Islamists' drive to the capital.

Andrew Harding reports from Mali.