Malians cel­e­brate, French-led forces clear Tim­buktu

The Kurdish Globe - - INTERNATIONAL -

Res­i­dents of Mali's north­ern town of Gao, cap­tured from sharia-ob­serv­ing Is­lamist rebels by French and Malian troops, danced in the streets to drums and mu­sic on Sun­day as the French-led of­fen­sive also drove the rebels from Tim­buktu.

The week­end gains made at Gao and Tim­buktu by the French and Malian troops capped a two-week whirl­wind in­ter­ven­tion by France in its former Sa­hel colony, which has driven al Qaeda-al­lied mil­i­tant fight­ers north­wards into the desert and moun­tains.

In Gao, the largest town in the north where the Is­lamist in­sur­gents had banned mu­sic and smok­ing, cut off the hands of thieves and or­dered women to wear veils, thou­sands cheered the lib­er­at­ing troops with shouts of "Mali, Mali, France, France".

French spe­cial forces backed by Rafale fighter jets and Tiger he­li­copters had helped cap­ture the town early on Satur­day.

Among the cel­e­brat­ing Gao crowds, many smoked cigarettes, women went un­veiled and some men wore shorts to flout the se­vere sharia Is­lamic law the rebels had im­posed for months. Youths on mo­tor­cy­cles flew the flags of Mali, France and Niger, whose troops also helped se­cure the an­cient town on the Niger River.

"Now we can breathe freely," said Hawa Toure, 25, wear­ing a col­or­ful tra­di­tional African robe banned un­der sharia for be­ing too re­veal­ing. "We are as free as the wind to­day. We thank all of our friends around the world who helped us," she said.

French and Malian troops also ar­rived at the week­end at the fa­bled Sa­ha­ran trad­ing town of Tim­buktu, more than 300 km (190 miles) to the west of Gao, and were work­ing to re­store government con­trol over the UNESCO World Her­itage Site.

A Malian mil­i­tary source said the French and Malian troops had met no re­sis­tance up to the gates of Tim­buktu and con­trolled the air­port. They were work­ing on flush­ing out any Is­lamist rebel fight­ers still hid­ing in the city, a labyrinth of an­cient mosques and mon­u­ments and mud-brick homes be­tween al­leys.

"Tim­buktu is del­i­cate, you can't just go in like that," the source, who asked not to be named, said.

A third north­ern town, the Tuareg seat of Ki­dal, in Mali's rugged and re­mote north­east, re­mains in rebel hands.

The United States and Europe are back­ing the U.N.-man­dated Mali op­er­a­tion as a coun­ter­strike against the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lamist ji­hadists us­ing the West African state's in­hos­pitable Sa­hara desert as a launch pad for in­ter­na­tional at­tacks.

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