- Title: MALI: French forces patrol Timbuktu
- Date: 5th February 2013
- Summary: CHILDREN FOLLOWING FRENCH ARMY VEHICLE, CHANTING 'FRANCE ! MALI !'
- Embargoed: 20th February 2013 12:00
- Location: Mali
- Country: Mali
- Topics: International Relations,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAD29HMPR3NOYQ1FM6RTHHJGW1O
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: French troops patrol Timbuktu and share local knowledge with the Malian army, after the three-week-old Operation Serval broke the Islamist militants' 10-month grip on northern towns
French forces patrolled on Tuesday (February 5) the dusty roads of Timbuktu as the mayor of the town said troops will stay as long as needed.
French and Malian forces rolled into the historic northern Mali city almost ten days ago, marking the end to a 10-month occupation by Islamist fighters.
The former colonial power intervened in Mali on January 11, after the West African country asked for aid to push back against a surge by al Qaeda-allied fighters who had taken over the vast desert region of the country's north last spring.
Since the intervention, French and Malian forces - along with a U.N.-backed African force - have retaken all key cities in northern Mali.
"I think the Malian amy showed it was able to give good results. Of course it needs help, there you are," said one French Sergeant, Jeremy, who declined to give his last name.
France has deployed nearly 4,000 ground troops, as well as warplanes and armored vehicles in its three-week-old Operation Serval that has broken the Islamist militants' 10-month grip on northern towns.
It is now due to gradually hand over to the U.N.-backed African force of some 8,000 troops, known as AFISMA, of which around 3,800 have already been deployed.
The mayor of Timbuktu, Ousmane Halle, said he wanted troops to stay until full security was restored.
"Some African troops will come and if some French troops are about to leave, some others will stay until everything will be one hundred per cent back to normal. And some other troops are here to stay," Halle told Reuters.
Malian army colonel Keba Sangari said security was improving little by little.
"With French-Malian patrols day and night, and the deployment of checkpoints, security is returning little by little," Sangari said.
Residents of the ancient caravan town have feted France in thanks for their liberation from Islamists, who had smashed sacred Sufi mausoleums and destroyed or stole some 2,000 ancient manuscripts, causing international outcry.
The rebels had handed down punishments including whipping and amputation for breaking the strict sharia law they had imposed on the town.
As the French-backed Malian army secured the towns, the Islamist fighters retreated to hideouts in the rural areas, including the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains and some military experts have expressed fear of a guerilla-style warfare.
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