BAMAKO - Mali's army has abandoned bases around the northern town of Gao to rebels while the leaders of a coup faced a deadline to start handing back power or face sanctions.
The defeat in the key garrison town was the latest for the army after a lightning 48-hour advance by northern rebels seeking to capitalize in chaos in the West African country after the March 22 coup.
"Given the proximity of the camps to residential areas, our forces decided not to fight," a statement by junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, read out on state television, said.
Civilian and local government sources said dozens of army vehicles streamed out of the main army camps around Goa, heading south towards the capital Bamako some 1,000 km away.
If rebels go on to fully take Gao and target Timbuktu, the last big northern center, their goal of securing a desert territory bigger than France will be in their grasp.