French, Malian troops patrol Timbuktu after hero's welcome

French and Malian forces were patrolling Mali's fabled desert city of Timbuktu today, after a hero's welcome following their lightning advance north.

But the city's mayor denounced what he called a crime against culture as fleeing Islamists torched a building housing priceless ancient manuscripts.

Financial aid meanwhile was beginning to flow into the troubled region. Today, Japan announced it would give an extra USD 120 million to help stabilise Africa's Sahel region, days after 10 Japanese nationals were killed in the Algerian hostage siege.

The announcement came just hours before a donor conference for the Mali mission was due to get underway in Ethiopia. Already yesterday the International Monetary Fund agreed to provide an USD 18.4 million emergency loan to Mali.

With the recapture of Timbuktu, only one Islamist stronghold remains to be retaken: the town of Kidal in the desert hills of the far north, 1,500 kilometres northeast of the capital Bamako.

Asked if French troops would press on to try to force the Islamists out of the mountainous north of the country, French President Francois Hollande said: "Now the Africans can take over...

"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 from Paris.

Residents of the ancient city on the edge of the Sahara desert erupted in joy as French and Malian troops drove in on Monday. "Mali, Mali, Mali," they shouted, as they waved French and Malian flags.

"There were no shots fired, no blood spilt. Not even passive resistance with traps," Colonel Frederic Gout, head of French helicopter operations at the city, told AFP.

Residents said many of the Islamist occupiers had left several days ago, as French air strikes rained down on their bases across the north. The electricity and the phone networks were both out of action.

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