U.N. Says Its Police Base In Mali’s Timbuktu Retaken From Attackers

MAliThe U.N. mission to Mali said on Friday that Malian forces backed by U.N. helicopters had retaken a police base in Timbuktu from unknown assailants who had captured it early in the morning.

“It’s over now,” said spokesman Olivier Salgado, without saying whether there had been casualties.

“They are now inspecting the site and looking for explosive devices,” he added

Court orders Timbuktu Media to pay ex-staff

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Lagos Judicial Division has ordered Timbuktu Media Limited, publishers of the rested NEXT Newspaper, to pay six ex-staff of the company their unpaid wages on or before April 6, 2013.

The ex-staff had gone to court to challenge alleged wrongful termination of appointment and non-payment of entitlements. The ex-staff include Olukayode Thomas, Opeyemi Olus, Ireyimka Oyegbami, Ayodamola Owoseye, Olusola Babarinsa and Bolade Oladoye.

Timbuktu Media Limited was founded by Pulitzer award winning reporter, Dele Olojede, who launched www.234next.com in 2008 and thereafter followed with the weekend and then daily versions of the paper.

The papers and online version were rested by 2011 following what Olojede termed lack of advertisement patronage. However, various critics, including former staff of the company, accuse Olojede of supervising a management board that indulged in reckless spending and poor marketing strategy.

In his judgment, Judge B Kanyip ordered Timbuktu Media Limited to pay the claimants their entitlement, general damages and cost of legal action on or before April 6.

Olojede, according to close associates, is considering either reviving the company or launching a new media firm.

President’s Son Leads Chadians Against Islamists In Mali

Around 1,000 troops from Chad led by the president’s son, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, advanced towards the mountains of northeast Mali on Thursday to join French search-and-destroy operations hunting Islamist jihadists.

A column of 100 Chadian armored vehicles, jeeps and supply trucks rolled out of Kidal, the Saharan town 1,200 km (750 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako. From Kidal, French and Chadian forces backed by French warplanes are striking against Islamist rebel hideouts in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range straddling the border with Algeria.

President Idriss Deby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, commanded the Chadian column. He told Reuters its mission was to “fight terrorism, and eradicate it from the region”, a reference to the Al Qaeda-allied fighters in the mountains who are being bombarded almost daily by French aircraft.

More than 2,500 troops from Chad and Niger are assisting 4,000 French soldiers in the second phase of Paris’ four-week-old intervention against Al Qaeda and its allies in Mali. This is supported by Africa, the United States and Europe as a strike against radical jihadists threatening international attacks.

France’s Operation Serval has retaken the main urban areas of Mali’s north, including Timbuktu and Gao, and is now pursuing the retreating jihadists into the remote northeast. Malian troops are moving up behind to secure the recaptured locations.

Malian Defense Minister General Yamoussa Camara told Reuters the Malian army intended to follow the French and Chadians right up to Tessalit close to the Algerian border.

“That is going to take some time. The enemy’s offensive has been broken, they’ve lost a lot of equipment, but there are pockets of resistance scattered across the country,” he said.

This echoed statements by French leaders who say the Islamists have suffered “hundreds” of casualties but warn the Mali campaign is not yet over. France has said it wants to start pulling troops out of its former colony in March and would like to see a U.N. peacekeeping force deployed there by April.

Pro-autonomy Tuareg MNLA fighters, whose revolt last year defeated Mali’s army and seized the north before being hijacked by Islamist radicals, have said they are controlling Kidal and other northeast towns abandoned by the fleeing Islamist rebels.

Tuareg desert nomads, offering local knowledge as guides, have said they will help the French and Chadians hunt down the al Qaeda-allied insurgents in the desert and mountains.

But this has created a potentially sensitive situation as Mali’s government and army insist on restoring Bamako’s sovereignty over every corner of Mali, including the vast and empty desert zone which the Tuaregs claim as their homeland.

“It is out of the question that we would abandon any place to the MNLA,” Defence Minister Camara said.

French President Visits Mali To Support French Troops

The President of France, Francois Hollande arrived in Mali on Saturday on a one-day visit to support French troops fighting a campaign against Islamist rebels in the Sahel nation.

Hollande, accompanied by his ministers for Defense, Foreign Affairs and Development, flew into Sevare in central Mali, French TV channels said.

He was due to go on to Timbuktu, the famed Saharan trading town which was recaptured from the rebels on Sunday.

The French leader was expected to outline the next phase of the mission for the French forces, which in a three-week intervention launched at Mali’s request have pushed the Islamist fighters into the desert and mountains of the remote northeast.

Hollande has said that the French operation, which has 3,500 soldiers on the ground in Mali backed by warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, wants to hand over to a larger U.N.-backed African force which is still being deployed.

Sustained French airstrikes have forced fighters from the Islamist militant alliance that was occupying northern Mali to retreat into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border. The rebels are also believed to be holding there seven French hostages previously seized in the Sahel.

In their three-week offensive, the French forces recaptured last weekend, with little resistance from the rebels, the two main towns in northern Mali, Gao and the fabled ancient city of Timbuktu.

 

French Troops Re-Claim Malian Town

French forces have now re-claimed the northern Malian town of Kidal, the last main stronghold of Islamist rebels in the region.

The militant Islamist fighters left the town, near the Algerian border, and are now believed to be hiding in the surrounding mountains.

Kidal was captured days after French and Malian forces retook the provincial capitals Gao and Timbuktu.

Haminy Maiga, a Kidal official, said the troops who arrived aboard four planes had met no resistance.

“The French arrived aboard four planes,” said, Mr Maiga, who heads the regional assembly.

“They took the airport and then entered the town, and there was no combat. The French are patrolling the town and two helicopters are patrolling overhead.”

Earlier, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a sandstorm had delayed the troops from leaving the airport and entering the town.

 

Mali Rebels Torch Timbuktu Manuscript Library – Mayor

Islamist fighters fleeing Mali’s ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu as French and Malian troops closed in, set fire to a South African-funded library there containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, the city’s mayor said on Monday.

Mr. Halle Ousmani Sisse said the Islamist rebels, who had occupied the fabled trading town since a Tuareg-led rebellion captured it on April 1, 2012 from government forces, also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.

The newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in the city containing fragile ancient documents dating back to the 13th century, built by the South Africans was also torched four days ago.

Ahmed Baba Institute is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and houses more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts; some stored in underground vaults.

Fighters from the Islamist alliance in the north of Mali, made up of AQIM, the Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine and AQIM splinter MUJWA, had also destroyed ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Muslims, provoking international outrage.

French and Malian troops were securing the city on Monday.

Jonathan warns of military intervention in Mali if talks with rebels fail

President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that military intervention in northern Mali will be inevitable if talks with Islamist group controlling the region, fails.

President Jonathan made this known during his visit to Senegal. He however stated that a West African force would only be deployed, with the approval of the United Nations.

ECOWAS would send a force to the area if a peace deal is not reached with the Islamist fighters, stated the president, adding that “diplomacy and negotiation is first.”

“ECOWAS will definitely intervene militarily, but … first and foremost we are negotiating,” he said after talks with Senegalese President Mr Macky Sall.

“We must stabilise the government … I believe through negotiation we will be able to resolve the crisis, we don’t necessarily need military intervention … but if that fails we will have no option.”

“Military intervention is extreme and when negotiations fail, at that time you can talk about military intervention” he said.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibrille Bas held talks with the militants last month as part of bloc’s diplomatic effort to end the conflict.

ECOWAS, as also asked the UN Security Council to endorse its plan to send 3,000 troops to Mali.

However, it refused, saying it needed more clarity on the West African body’s military objectives and how it intended to achieve them.

Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels took control of large swathes of northern Mali after President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a coup in March.

But the rebel alliance has since ruptured, with Islamist fighters chasing Tuareg rebels out of several northern towns and imposing Sharia law.

The Islamists have destroyed ancient shrines in the historical city of Timbuktu, claiming they violated Sharia law and promoted idolatry among Muslims.

The UN warned that the destruction of the shrines could amount to war crimes and the International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities.

The Islamists have also stoned to death an unwed couple and amputated the hand of an alleged thief.

Alleged atrocities committed in the rebel-held north are being investigated by international prosecutors.

A new unity government was formed in Mali’s capital, Bamako, at the weekend, promising to spearhead initiatives to end the instability in the north.

Mali has so far rejected a full-scale foreign intervention but said its army, once re-equipped, would need the support of two or three battalions.