Gao

French army troopers arrive at base camp in Sevare on January 25, 2013 (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

French army troopers arrive at base camp in Sevare on January 25, 2013 (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

French and Malian forces have made rapid advances in recent days in their efforts to defeat Islamist militants in Mali. On Saturday they captured Gao, which has been under control of the Islamists since last April.

Xan Rice, the FT’s west Africa correspondent, spoke to a teacher from Gao, who did not want his name to be used, about the liberation of the town.

Here is a transcript of the teacher’s account:

“We had a big celebration when the French and Malian army arrived on Saturday. On all the main streets people were out welcoming them.

“It was ‘Long live France, long live Hollande, long live Mali’s army’. The town is secured. We also have soldiers from Niger and Chad here. We are all very happy because nobody liked the Islamists. They were strong but they lost a lot of equipment and vehicles when they attacked Konna [a central town, where the conflict started in January]. We knew that when the army came here, the Islamists would fly away.