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Timbuktu liberated - but not before rebels torch treasures

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 29th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The rebels have fled the iconic city of Timbuktu - but not before leaving their horrible mark. As French and Malian troops took control of the town from insurgents, the rebels torched several buildings, including a priceless manuscript library.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A building housing tens of thousands of manuscripts from the ancient Muslim world and Greece, the Ahmed Baba Center for Documentation and Research was set on fire.

Mayor Ousmane confirmed the fire at the structure, which housed between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts, according to Mali's culture ministry.

Welcomed warmly by residents of the Malian town, the French-led coalition troops learned from residents that the rebel fighters had left the city several days ago.

"The Malian army and the French army are in complete control of the town of Timbuktu. Everything is under control," a colonel in the Malian army said on the condition of anonymity.

There were fears that Timbuktu would have been overlaid with mines, and the French military was in the process of "securing" it.

Malian troops have been leading the entrance into various towns, with the French troops numbering about 3,000 behind them. An Al Jazeera journalist said that this was intended to give the impression that Malian troops were retaking the town while they were actually being reinstalled in the town by the French troops.

There has been very little fighting as the coalition troops retook various towns. Many have described that the rebels had simply "melted away," possibly into Mauritania and other neighboring countries.

A breakaway group from the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Dine group and Tuareg rebels announced that they had claimed control of a northern town, Kidal earlier this week.

French President Francois Hollande said on Monday that France was winning the battle, but added that it would be up to African forces to tackle rebels in the northern part of Mali once the key towns in the region were retaken.

"Then the Africans can take over the baton," Hollande said. "They are the ones who will go into the northern part, which we know is the most difficult because that's where the terrorists are hiding."

Nearly 8,000 African troops from Chad and West African grouping ECOWAS are expected to take over from the French troops. The African-led force will require a budget of $460 million, with the African Union pledging $50 million to the mission on the final day of its summit in Addis Ababa.

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