French President Francois Hollande arrived in Mali on Saturday for a one-day visit following the French-led offensive to drive radical Islamists from the north of the country, an AFP journalist said.
Hollande flew into the central town of Sevare accompanied by his foreign, defense and development ministers and was later due to visit the desert city of Timbuktu as well as the capital Bamako.
The French leader was expected to outline the next phase of the mission for the French forces, which in a three-week intervention launched at Mali's request have pushed the Islamist fighters into the desert and mountains of the remote northeast.
Hollande has said that the French operation, which has 3,500 soldiers on the ground in Mali backed by warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, wants to hand over to a larger UN-backed African force which is still being deployed.
Sustained French airstrikes have forced fighters from the Islamist militant alliance that was occupying northern Mali to retreat into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border. The rebels are also believed to be holding there seven French hostages previously seized in the Sahel.
In their three-week offensive, the French forces recaptured last weekend, with little resistance from the rebels, the two main towns in northern Mali, Gao and the fabled ancient city of Timbuktu.