Mali: Troops surround fabled Timbuktu

2013-01-28 12:32
(AP)

(AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bamako - French-led troops surrounded Mali's fabled desert city of Timbuktu on Monday after seizing its airport in a lightning advance against Islamists who have been driven from key northern strongholds.

French paratroopers swooped in to block any fleeing Islamists while ground troops coming from the south seized the airport in the ancient city which has been one of the bastions of the extremists who have controlled the north for 10 months.

"We control the airport at Timbuktu," a senior officer with the Malian army told AFP. "We did not encounter any resistance."

French army spokesperson Colonel Thierry Burkhard told AFP the troops, backed up by helicopters, had seized control of the so-called Niger Loop - the area alongside the curve of the Niger River flowing between Timbuktu and Gao - in less than 48 hours.

A fabled caravan town on the edge of the Sahara desert, Timbuktu was for centuries a key centre of Islamic learning and has become a byword for exotic remoteness in the Western imagination.

The once cosmopolitan town became a dusty outpost for the extremists who forced women to wear veils, whipped and stoned those who violated their version of strict Islamic law, and destroyed ancient Muslim shrines they considered "idolatrous".

A source in a reconnaissance team which first reached Timbuktu on Sunday said Malian and French troops had not yet entered the city, which had suffered destruction as the Islamists fled.

"We are in town but we are not many. But the Islamists caused damages before leaving. They burned houses, and manuscripts. They beat people who were showing their joy."

Residents fleeing Timbuktu were jubilant in the face of the French advance and denounced the regime the Islamists had imposed on them.

Political vacuum

"They beat us up when we smoked or listened to music," said Amadou Alassane Mega, a young student. "They will have to pay for what they did to us."

The advance into Timbuktu known as "the City of 333 Saints", which lies 1 000km north of Mali's capital Bamako, comes a day after French and Malian soldiers seized another Islamist bastion, the eastern town of Gao.

The French defence ministry said a French armoured battalion, Malian troops and soldiers from Niger and Chad were in control of Gao after fighting on Saturday in which "several terrorist groups were destroyed or chased to the north".

French warplanes had carried out at least 20 air strikes on Saturday and Sunday in the Gao and Timbuktu regions, the ministry statement added.

Gao is the biggest of six towns seized by French and Malian troops since they launched their offensive on 11 January to wrest the vast desert north from the Islamists.

The largest town yet to be recaptured is Kidal further north near the Algerian border which was the first to be seized by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists last year.

Kidal is the home of renowned former Tuareg rebel Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of armed Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).

Mali's lengthy crisis was kick-started by a Tuareg rebellion for independence in January last year which overwhelmed the weak Malian army and prompted a coup in Bamako in March.

Amid the political vacuum the Tuareg desert nomads and Islamists seized the north in a matter of days. But the extremists had no interest in the Tuareg desire for independence and quickly sidelined their erstwhile allies to install sharia law.

Slow response

The occupation of an area twice the size of France sparked fears abroad that northern Mali could become a new haven for terror groups, threatening the West as well as neighbouring African countries.

However plans to intervene remained mired in hesitation.

In early January the Islamists broke through into the government-held south, raising fears that the Islamists could seize the capital Bamako and prompting intervention by former colonial power France.

At an African Union summit in Addis Ababa where leaders discussed increasing troop numbers for an African intervention force in Mali, outgoing chairman and Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi criticised the AU's slow response.

France's action, he said, was something "we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country".

Defence chiefs from West African regional grouping Ecowas agreed Saturday to boost their troop pledges for Mali to 5 700. Chad, which is not a member of the 15-nation bloc, has promised an extra 2 000 soldiers.

France said on Sunday it had now deployed 2 900 troops and that 2 700 African soldiers were on the ground in Mali and Niger, but French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault appealed for more aid for the Mali effort.

In the central Mali town of Konna meanwhile, where France opened its offensive 17 days ago, local people showed journalists the graves of civilians killed in the air strikes.

While Konna's deputy mayor Demba Samouka insisted there was no precise death toll available, he said that at most four civilians had died in the air raids, blaming other civilian deaths on Islamist fighters.

- SAPA

Read more on:    tuaregs  |  au  |  ansar dine  |  mali  |  france  |  west africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia Lumia 800

The stunningly social Nokia Lumia 800 features head-turning design, ...

From R2395.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.