After the fall of Timbuktu, 'a time of revenge'
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Looters in Timbuktu broke into shops owned by ethnic Arabs and Tuareg Tuesday, a day after French and Malian troops gained control of the historic northern Malian city amid simmering ethnic tensions in the region.
A day after French and Malian troops gained control of Timbuktu from rebels, tensions were rising in the historic northern Malian city as hundreds of people broke into shops owned by ethnic Arabs and Tuareg on Tuesday in a backlash against perceived collaborators.
“After Timbuktu fell yesterday, the situation is now very different,” said FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin, reporting from the centre of Timbuktu. “It’s a time of revenge here and we can see people – everybody, children, old men, women – attacking Arab shops in a misguided idea that those shops were linked to Islamist fighters, which is absolutely not true in many cases.”
According to Mabin, French and Malian troops around the city were stretched thin.
“At the moment, most of the Malian troops and all of the French troops are around the city to secure the battlefield,” said Mabin. “The war is not over around the region of Timbuktu. Hundreds of pickups [bearing rebels] left the city a few days ago. Some left just yesterday [Monday] morning. So, the Malian and French troops are very busy at the moment securing the area around the city.”
Human rights concerns mount
A vast, multi-ethnic West African nation, Mali is home to a variety of ethnic groups, including the Tuaregs and other ethnic groups of North African Berber origins, which comprise about 10 per cent of Mali's total population of 14 million.
Signs of a backlash against the Tuareg and other lighter skinned groups – commonly called Arabs – were evident nearly 10 months ago in the capital of Bamako shortly after northern Mali fell to a motley mix of Tuareg and Islamist rebels.
In the wake of the French-led military intervention this month, there have been concerns of human rights abuses by the poorly trained Malian military.
Earlier this week, FRANCE 24’s Mehdi Chebil documented a case of Malian soldiers targeting an elderly man mistakenly assumed to have Islamist links in the central Malian city of Diabaly.
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) is currently investigating cases of alleged summary executions by Malian soldiers of individuals believed to have links with the Ansar Dine Islamist group.
Responding to reports of looting and targeting of civilians in the newly liberated areas, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France was in favour of rapidly deploying international observers to ensure that human rights are respected in Mali.
“Our troops have been told to show extreme caution in responding to acts of violence,” Ayrault told parliament on Tuesday. “I point out though that the International Committee of the Red Cross has not so far confirmed acts that have been reported on this subject by some non-governmental organisations,” he added.
But in a sign of the difficulties facing troops trying to secure northern Mali, Mabin noted that in some Timbuktu shops, he saw “some ammunition and weapons” being removed by Malian troops.
It was not known if the weapons confiscated from the Arab-owned shops were used or stored by Islamist militants.
International community issues pledges for Mali
The tensions in Timbuktu came as French President François Hollande called on African troops to be on the forefront of the mission to secure northern Mali.
“It is time for the Africans to take over,” Hollande told a news conference in Paris on Monday.
Hollande’s call came a day before an international donors conference opened at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tuesday.
According to a senior AU official, attending nations pledged $455.5 million for the United Nations-authorised, African-led Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). The AU says AFISMA requires an initial budget of $461 million.
The pledges came from African nations such as Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Gambia, as well as developed countries such as the US, Japan, Germany and the UK.
In terms of force deployments, there are currently around 3,500 French troops and 1,900 African soldiers - including Chadians and troops from Niger - deployed alongside the Malian army. In total, some 8,000 African soldiers are expected, but their deployment has been hampered by funding and logistical problems.
Speaking in Addis Ababa Tuesday, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, head of the African Union Commission, noted that the situation in Mali requires a “fast and efficient” response because it “threatens Mali, the region, the continent and beyond”.
All eyes on Kidal
Meanwhile in Timbuktu, order was somewhat restored by Tuesday afternoon when Malian troops finally moved in.
Electricity had not returned and residents said there was no water supply since water-pumps were not working. The telephone network has also not been in service over the past few days and there were still food shortages.
With Timbuktu controlled by French and Malian forces, the north-eastern city of Kidal is the last major northern Malian city still under rebel control.
Rebels from a Tuareg separatist group have told FRANCE 24 that they are in control of the city and are ready to negotiate with French troops. However, the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) said it would not allow Malian soldiers into Kidal, underscoring the political challenges that continue to confront Mali.