Malian troops consolidate hold of Timbuktu

African leaders and international officials pledge $600m in aid as French and Malian military forces make key gains.

Life has started returning to normal in Timbuktu as French and Malian troops consolidate control of the ancient desert city.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Timbuktu on Tuesday, said Malian troops had established a very clear physical presence in the city.

“They’re manning checkpoints and intersections and they’re talking to local people – sending a very clear visual message that they’re in charge now, rather than the al-Qaeda-linked rebels who seized the city last year,” she said.

“Timbuktu is a very important point along the road.”

Footage released by the French military on Tuesday showed its troops preparing for the Timbuktu operation, as well as aerial shots of its planes flying over the city.

Francois Gere, president of the French Strategic Analysis Institute, discusses who controls what in Mali

The French military also released still photos of jubilant residents greeting the arrival of troops in the city, where rebels whipped women for going outside without veils and amputated the hand of a suspected thief.

The rebels systematically destroyed cultural sites in Timbuktu, including the ancient tombs of Sufi saints, which they denounced as contrary to Islam.

In a related development, African leaders and international officials pledged hundreds of millions of dollars at a donor conference in Ethiopia to support military operations against rebels in Mali.

Dioncounda Traore, Mali’s president, thanked the “entire international community” as nations offered cash or support at the meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.

About $600m has been pledged so far, including more than $120m from Japan and $96m from the US.

The conference comes a day after French-led forces seized Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu as part of an offensive against fighters who have controlled northern Mali for about 10 months.

Conference participants

African leaders and officials, as well as representatives from the UN, EU and China, are taking part in the Addis Ababa conference.

“We all know the gravity of the crisis,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, AU commission chief, said.

“It is a situation that requires a swift and effective international response for it threatens Mali, the region, the continent and even beyond.”

The AU has promised to contribute $50m, but has estimated its force in Mali will cost $460m.

There is no clear figure for how much the Addis Ababa conference is aiming to raise, although diplomats have suggested some $700m will be needed for AFISMA and the Malian army, in addition to heavy humanitarian costs.

Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast president and chairman of 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said there was an “urgent need to speed up the deployment” of regional troops.

A lack of cash and logistical resources has hampered the efforts of African troops to support Mali’s army.

So far, just 2,000 African troops have been deployed, with the bulk of the fighting borne by 2,500 French troops. France launched its offensive in Mali on January 11.

“We are gathered here today to provide AFISMA ways to carry out its work of restoring the sovereignty and integrity of Mali, prerequisites for lasting political stability,” Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, said, using the acronym for the AU force.

Traore, the Malian president, also called on the wider Muslim world to support efforts, and to show that “Islam at its heart does not serve as a cover for terrorism and organised crime”.

Ban Ki-moon, UN chief, gave warning in advance of the conference that there was a “moral imperative for the entire international community” to provide support.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies