French-led troops ring Timbuktu, Islamists burn manuscripts

French army soldiers take position outside Sevare, on January 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR

by Serge Daniel Daily Star, Lebanon

Story Summary French-led troops ringed Mali’s fabled desert city of Timbuktu Monday after seizing its airport in a lightning advance as fleeing Islamists torched a building housing priceless ancient manuscripts.

French paratroopers swooped in to try to block fleeing hardliners as ground troops coming from the south seized the airport in the ancient city which has been one of the bastions of the extremists controlling the north for 10 months.

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard told AFP the troops, backed up by helicopters, had seized control of the so-called Niger Loop — the area alongside the curve of the Niger River flowing between Timbuktu and Gao — in less than 48 hours.

The advance into Timbuktu known as “the City of 333 Saints”, which lies 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) north of Mali’s capital Bamako, comes a day after French and Malian soldiers seized another Islamist bastion, the eastern town of Gao.

France said Sunday it had now deployed 2,900 troops and that 2,700 African soldiers were on the ground in Mali and Niger, but French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault appealed for more aid for the Mali effort.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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