French Military Enters Timbuktu
January 28, 2013
The French military says its troops have entered the historic city of Timbuktu in northern Mali after seizing the airport overnight.
Military spokesman Thierry Burkhard said that there had been no fighting with the Islamist guerrillas, but he said French and Malian forces do not yet completely control the town.
French President Francois Hollande said meanwhile that the joint forces were "winning this battle."
Hollande told a news conference in Paris that the joint force will continue the operation to liberate other Malian cities.
"What do we still need to do? Stop the terrorist offensive. That's done. [Then] retake the towns with the Malian and African forces. We are still in the process of that operation," Hollande said.
"But northern Mali is still under terrorist control. So it's up to the Africans, as I have said, to permit Mali to restore its territorial integrity."
French and Malian forces have been pushing north in their offensive against Islamists.
The news of the troops' arrival in the city came just hours after Timbuktu's mayor confirmed that ancient Muslim manuscripts had been burned by fleeing militants.
Last year, Islamist militants destroyed many of Timbuktu's Muslim shrines, graves, and mausoleums with pick-axes, shovels, and even bulldozers.
Their targets have been sites revered by Sufis, a mystical school of Islam which honors its saints with ornate shrines.
At least half of 16 listed mausoleums in the city have been destroyed, along with a substantial part of the history of Islam in Africa.
The bones of Sufi saints were dug up, and the hard-liners tore down a mosque door that locals believed had to stay shut until the end of the world.
Over the weekend, French and Malian forces entered another northern provincial capital, Gao.
Islamists seized the north of the country last year, but have been rapidly abandoning their gains since French forces intervened earlier this month.
Based on reporting by AP, BBC, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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