French-led troops secure hold on Timbuktu

The BBC's Thomas Fessy: "French troops are making sure no militants are hiding in the population"

French-led troops are consolidating their position in the historic Malian city of Timbuktu after seizing it from Islamist extremists.

French military commanders say soldiers are patrolling the streets looking to flush out any remaining militants.

The troops are then expected to focus on the last rebel stronghold, Kidal.

An international donors' conference has opened in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, hoping to fund a budget for the campaign set at $950m (£605m).

Also on Tuesday, a conference in Brussels is due to decide on troops for an EU military training mission for Mali. The UK has already said it will contribute to the mission.

'No shots fired'

Life appeared to be returning closer to normal in Timbuktu on Tuesday, with French and Malian troops in control of the streets, although electricity and phone lines were still cut.

On Monday, about 1,000 French soldiers - including paratroopers - and 200 Malian troops had seized Timbuktu airport and entered the city.

Col Frederic Gout, head of French helicopter operations at Timbuktu, told Agence France-Presse: "There were no shots fired, no blood spilt. Not even passive resistance with traps."

At the scene

Residents were still cheering French and Malian troops when we entered the city late in the afternoon.

Both national flags can be seen all over town. The feeling that people are coming back to life after nearly a year of occupation by extremist militants is simply incredible.

There are still some reminders of the Islamist rule with banners declaring Sharia here and there.

But we have also seen people looting houses allegedly held by al-Qaeda militants. A young man was walking with a huge wooden door on his back while others fought for iron sheets and all sorts of lamps and cables.

A French commander said troops were still sweeping the town for mines, booby traps and more importantly for potential militants hiding within the population.

There is no electricity here nor phone network. The two main hotels, which have been closed for so long, have reopened to accommodate incoming journalists. Staff are delighted to welcome us and are moving heaven and earth to resume normal service.

Welcoming the French and Malian force, residents said that the Islamists had left several days earlier, following French air strikes on their bases.

As they withdrew into the desert, the Islamist fighters set fire to several buildings including a library containing priceless manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th Century.

The Ahmed Baba institute held about 30,000 manuscripts and includes documents about centuries of life in the city, Mali and neighbouring countries.

Ali Baba, a worker at the institute, told Sky News that more than 3,000 manuscripts had been destroyed.

The recovery of Timbuktu followed the swift capture by French and Malian forces of Gao on Saturday, another major northern population centre occupied by militant groups.

Islamists took advantage of a coup last year to seize the vast north of Mali and impose strict Sharia law on its inhabitants.

France - the former colonial power in Mali - launched a military operation this month after militants looked to be threatening the south.

Meanwhile, reports from Kidal - home of the head of Ansar Dine, the main militant group in northern Mali - suggest that the group may have already lost control there.

The secular Tuareg rebel group MNLA said it had taken charge.

On Tuesday, the MNLA said on its website that it had taken control of six other towns, including Lere.

It said it was prepared to work with the French "to eradicate terrorist groups" in the north but that it would not allow the return of the Malian army, which it accused of "crimes against the civilian population".

Sign proclaiming Sharia in Timbuktu, 28 January 2013 Signs proclaiming Sharia law are a testament to the militants' period of control

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said that African forces would now be in the forefront of securing the north.

"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.

France has 2,900 soldiers in Mali, with almost 8,000 African troops expected to take over, although the deployment has been slow.

The BBC's Mark Doyle, in Bandiagara, some 320km (200 miles) south of Timbuktu, says there is still great fear among the people outside of the main population centres.

No-one is sure where the Islamists have gone, he says, and there are concerns that another phase of the war could now begin - one of hit-and-run attacks or suicide bombings.

'Solidarity'

At the opening of the donor conference in Addis Ababa, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said the budget for the multinational force's operation would be $950m - more than double the African Union's initial estimate.

The AU pledged $50m at its summit at the same venue on Monday, and it was hoped the UN and some of the 60 to 70 donors invited to the conference would increase the funding.

In a list of donations carried on the AU's Twitter account on Tuesday, Japan had pledged $120m, the US $96m and Germany $20m.

India and China pledged $1m each, the AU said.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told delegates that they had gathered "to express solidarity with the Republic of Mali and its people".

She said: "We all know the gravity of the crisis. It is a situation that requires a swift and effective international response, for it threatens Mali, the region, the continent and even beyond."

Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn said money would also be needed to fund post-conflict projects.

The BBC's James Copnall, in the Ethiopian capital, says there is a general recognition that Mali will not become peaceful again without a democratic transformation, but that for the moment the focus is firmly on finding the money needed by the military force.

On Monday, the International Monetary Fund agreed an $18.4m emergency loan to Mali.

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