366

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Troops Secure Hold on Timbuktu

Troops Secure Hold on Timbuktu

French-led troops are consolidating their position in the historic Malian city of Timbuktu after seizing it from Islamist extremists. French military commanders say soldiers are patrolling the streets looking to flush out any remaining militants. The troops are then expected to focus on the last rebel stronghold, Kidal.

An international donors' conference has opened in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, hoping to fund a budget for the campaign set at $950m (£605m). Also on Tuesday, a conference in Brussels is due to decide on troops for an EU military training mission for Mali. The UK has already said it will contribute to the mission. 'No shots fired' Life appeared to be returning closer to normal in Timbuktu on Tuesday, with French and Malian troops in control of the streets, although electricity and phone lines were still cut. On Monday, about 1,000 French soldiers - including paratroopers - and 200 Malian troops had seized Timbuktu airport and entered the city. Col Frederic Gout, head of French helicopter operations at Timbuktu, told Agence France-Presse: "There were no shots fired, no blood spilt. Not even passive resistance with traps."

Timbuktu Residents were still cheering French and Malian troops when we entered the city late in the afternoon. Both national flags can be seen all over town. The feeling that people are coming back to life after nearly a year of occupation by extremist militants is simply incredible. There are still some reminders of the Islamist rule with banners declaring Sharia here and there. But we have also seen people looting houses allegedly held by al-Qaeda militants. A young man was walking with a huge wooden door on his back while others fought for iron sheets and all sorts of lamps and cables.

Meanwhile, reports from Kidal - home of the head of Ansar Dine, the main militant group in northern Mali - suggest that the group may have already lost control there.Signs proclaiming Sharia law are a testament to the militants' period of control In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said that African forces would now be in the forefront of securing the north. "We know that this is the most difficult part because the terrorists are hidden there and can still carry out extremely dangerous operations, for neighbouring countries and Mali," he said. France has 2,900 soldiers in Mali, with almost 8,000 African troops expected to take over, although the deployment has been slow.  

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