U.N. officials say an African intervention force now deploying in Mali could double from its envisioned 3,300 troops, as more soldiers are needed to help regain control from Islamist militants holding the country's north.
Ivory Coast U.N. Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba, who represents the Economic Community of West African States at the United Nations, says nearly 1,000 troops already are in Mali. He urged the Security Council Tuesday to provide emergency financial and logistical support for the operation.
French and Malian forces have stopped a southward push by the militants, who seized the vast area of northern Mali following a March coup.
A VOA reporter in Gao says most Islamist militants have fled the city since last week, when French warplanes bombed their positions.
The reporter says that some militants have been spotted in the area - driving in trucks or riding motorbikes or hiding out in trees. But he adds it is clear the Islamists are not numerous or organized enough to continue applying the strict Sharia law they imposed after taking control of the city last April.
Local youths have taken up smoking again, the VOA reporter says, and girls without head coverings can be seen in the streets.
The journalist in Gao says the French airstrike on Gao 10 days ago did not kill any civilians, but that the city is suffering shortages of food and medical supplies because all deliveries from Niger and Algeria have been interrupted.
Gao has no communication links to the rest of the world. The reporter said he had to travel 180 kilometers outside Gao to file his report.
Malian forces are patrolling Diabaly, a town in central Mali where Islamist militants were beaten back Monday by French and Malian forces.
Residents in Diabaly, too, said the militants who formerly held power there either have fled or are attempting to blend in with civilians. The town is 400 kilometers north of the capital, Bamako.
The correspondent leading the VOA reporting team in Mali, Idrissa Fall, says calm also is returning to Douentza, a town militants had taken over in September.
Fall spoke Tuesday with residents who expressed relief that Malian forces and their allies are now in charge of local affairs.
"They confirmed that the Malian army, the French soldiers, they arrived yesterday [Monday] morning at 9:00 a.m. and the whole population in Douentza went out celebrating their arrival," said Fall.
French forces intervened in Mali January 11, when fears were growing that militants who still control much of northern Mali were pushing toward the capital. The United States has helped the French intervention force in Mali with transportation and equipment.
Pentagon spokesman George Little Tuesday said the U.S. military has flown five C-17 cargo flights into Bamako.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the terrorist threat in Mali has "global repercussions." In a speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, Mr. Ban said that addressing the unrest in Mali and the Sahel region is one of his top priorities this year.
During the past few days, the secretary-general said, he dispatched an advance team of U.N. multidisciplinary officials to Bamako as part of U.N. efforts to help stabilize Mali.
"My special representative for West Africa has been in close dialogue with the Malian authorities and our regional partners. Our humanitarian agencies are working to meet the growing needs of a crisis that has forced 350,000 people to flee their homes," he said.
Ban said the U.N. will work with its African and international partners to fully restore Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity.
Adama Drabo, 16, sits in the police station in Sevare, Mali, January 25, 2013. He was captured traveling without papers by Malian troops and arrested on suspicion of working for Islamic militant group MUJAO.
French soldiers sing the national anthem during a ceremony with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, before their departure to Mali, at Miramas Military base, France, January 25, 2013.
Malian troops man an observation post outside Sevare, Mali January 24, 2013.
French soldiers at an observation post outside Sevare, Mali, about 400 miles north of the capital Bamako, January 24, 2013.
A boy who fled northern Mali is seen at a camp for internally displaced persons in Sevare, Mali, January 23, 2013.
People who fled northern Mali are seen at a camp for internally displaced persons, in the city of Sevare, Mali, January 23, 2013.
Malians hang on the back of a packed minibus as they drive to Marakala, central Mali, 240 kilometers from Bamako, January 22, 2013.
A French soldier carries his equipment after arriving on a US Air Force C-17 transport plane at the airport in Bamako, Mali, January 22, 2013.
Malian soldiers carry a box of ammunition after searching through debris at a military camp in Diabaly, Mali, January 21 2013.
Charred pickup trucks, which according to local villagers, belonged to al-Qaida-linked rebels and destroyed by French airstrikes, are seen in Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A Malian soldier walks inside a military camp used by radical Islamists and bombarded by French warplanes, in Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
An unidentified man takes a picture of the charred remains of trucks used by radical Islamists on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.
A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of Diabaly, Mali, January 21, 2013.