French and Malian troops claim to have restored government control over Timbuktu, the latest gain in the drive to remove al-Qaeda allied fighters.
A military source says the combined forces reached the gates of the city on Saturday night without meeting resistance from the Islamist insurgents who held the town since last year.
People in the city have warmly welcomed the French and Malian soldiers who have advanced rapidly with air support and armoured vehicles.
But the African Union wants faster and more efficient action from its member states.
At its summit in Addis Ababa, outgoing AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, criticised Africa’s slow response to the Islamist insurgency in Mali.
“How could it be that when faced with a danger that threatens its very foundations, Africa, although it had the means to defend itself, continued to wait,” Yayi told African leaders after handing over the AU chair to Ethiopia.
A continental intervention force expected to number 7,000 is being flown into the country, but its arrival remains unclear amid delays due to logistical problems and the lack of airlift capacity.