The Defence Secretary has paid tribute to the British troops involved in overhauling the army of the West African country of Mali.
Thousands of refugees from northern Mali have fled their homes into a desert camp in neighbouring Mauritania where conditions are dire.
Football was banned in Mali under jihadist rule; now the Africa Cup of Nations has helped to promote a sense of unity and pride.
Mali's army has repulsed an attack by a group of Islamist rebels who slipped past army checkpoints to enter the northern Malian town of Gao, a military official said today.
The Malian army official said government forces had defeated the Islamists after more than two hours of intense fighting. The clashes took place after Gao residents reported a group of Islamists entering their neighbourhood.
No death toll was immediately available.
The Foreign Secretary saw for himself today what's being done to tackle the threat of terrorism in part of North Africa. William Hague visited the Malian capital, Bamako to speak to the Government and military about how to bring stability to the region. Speaking during his visit, Mr Hague said:
The evolving threat from terrorist groups in Mali has necessitated a urgent international response to help the Malians restore their territorial integrity and deny terrorists a safe haven in their country.
I welcomed the Malian Government's agreement of the political roadmap towards elections and a transition to full democratic rule. I promised that the UK would work with partners in the region, the UN and the EU, to help Mali establish effective arrangements for the elections.
Foreign Secretary William Hague is in the African nation of Mali as part of efforts to combat terror and restore security to the country. He is due to meet with the Malian Government and members of the military.
Speaking after arriving in Bamako, Mr Hague said:
My visit, the first by a British Foreign Secretary, underlines the UK's strong commitment to work with international partners to support Mali and countries in the region on countering terrorism and restoring security in the country. Mali is at the heart of a range of complex political, security and development challenges that have the potential to affect the wider region.
It is vital that we work together to tackle these challenges. I look forward to discussing the Malian Government's plans to implement their roadmap towards elections and the restoration of full democratic rule. A more inclusive political process is critical for longer-term stability in Mali. The UK stands with the people of Mali as they seek to secure their country, re-build their livelihoods and resolve long-standing grievances.
Leading al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, thought to be behind January's hostage crisis in Algeria, has been killed in Mali, according to Chadian forces.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said if confirmed, his death would be a "blow to terrorism".
ITV News' Mark Thatcher reports.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar would be a “blow to terrorism” but was unable to confirm reports that the al Qaeda commander had been killed in the north of Mali.
He told BBC's Andrew Marr: "It doesn't mean the problems of Mali would be at an end, there's a lot to do to promote a political process in Mali, elections, legitimate government and so on."
One of the world's most infamous terrorists is believed to be dead tonight. Chad's armed forces say Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed by their soldiers in Mali today. He was said to have ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where 37 hostages were killed.
ITV News correspondent Harry Smith has the latest:
Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the seizure of dozens of foreign hostages at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January in which more than 60 people were killed.
The Chadian claims of his death comes days after Chad's President Idriss Deby said soldiers in Mali had killed another leading al Qaeda commander in the Sahara, Adelhamid Abou Zeid.
French officials said they could not confirm the killing of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar.
The Foreign Office has confirmed it is investigating claims Chadian soldiers have killed leading al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar in northern Mali.
An FCO spokesperson said: "We are aware of (the) reports and looking into it."
The death of leading al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar would bring to an end an exhaustive manhunt for a militant branded "The Uncatchable" by the French intelligence.
- Belmokhtar, who Chadian forces claim to have killed in northern Mali, is a one-eyed veteran Islamist guerrilla and smuggler, dubbed "Mr Marlboro" for his illicit cigarette empire.
- He was named by Algerian officials as the man behind January's oil field kidnapping.
- Belmokhtar has been linked to multiple kidnappings of foreigners in North Africa in the last decade, including the taking of 32 European tourists in 2003.
- An Algerian court sentenced Belmokhtar in absentia to a life sentence for his role in the killing of 10 Algerian custom agents in 2007.
- It was claimed he orchestrated January's kidnappings in Algeria, but from a distance, with him based in the rebel-held town of Gao in northern Mali.
- Only last year, Algerian media reports of his death in violence in Gao in northern Mali proved unfounded, only expanding his elusive status.
A spokesman for the Chadian Army has said on national television their forces have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Mali.
– General Zacharia Gobongu, Chadian Army
On Saturday, March 2, at noon, Chadian armed forces operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base ... The toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.