BAMAKO - A column of French armored vehicles has left the Malian capital Bamako, heading north towards territory controlled by Islamist rebels, a French military official said on Tuesday.

"A convoy of armored vehicles left this afternoon heading north," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters without providing further details.

It was the first such movement since France began a military operation on Friday to halt a southward advance by the alliance of Islamist groups.

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