BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- Islamist extremist rebels seized control of Douentza, moving much closer to government-held territory in central Mali.
Douentza was taken early Saturday morning by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (known by the French acronym MUJAO). Douentza is 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Mopti, a central town held by the Mali army.
Islamist leader Oumar Ould Hamaha said the MUJAO fighters entered Douentza and forced the surrender of the Gandakoy militia, who are secular rebels.
The seizure of Douentza was confirmed by residents contacted by phone from Bamako.
The fall of Douentza shows that Islamist forces are gaining territory and moving closer to southern Mali.
The United Nations reports that an estimated 440,000 people have fled the conflict and are in need of emergency food and shelter.