Africa

Mali conflict: Timbuktu celebrates end of Islamist rule

  • 31 January 2013
  • From the section Africa

Yacouba Toure and a couple of his friends have gathered around his crackling radio in Mali's historic city of Timbuktu, soon after French-led troops captured it from militant Islamists.

They are sitting on the dusty steps of a hair salon, feet tapping to the rhythm of music.

"Music is a pleasure for us," Mr Toure says.

"We can now dance and do whatever we want: We can walk together with women, we can shout, we're the young people of Timbuktu, this is what we like doing."

Music was banned under the strict Islamic law that militant Islamists imposed when they took over the ancient desert city last year.

All traditional folklore and ceremonies that make Malian culture vibrant were declared blasphemous.

Other people soon join Mr Toure's little gathering, and a man offers to make some tea.

The militants banned men and women from mixing in public.

Now, Karia Cisse, who is passing by with a basket full of smoked fish on her head, grabs a cup.

"We can chit-chat with our brothers, our friends, and even our boyfriends," she says.

"It's a real pleasure, we're so happy. I want to thank God."

Residents of Timbuktu can again enjoy the simple things they were used to, before the city fell under Islamist control 10 months ago.

Reprisal attacks

They can also dress the way they want to. Women have swapped the full black niqab, or full-face veil, for colourful local pagnes, a piece cloth wrapped around the body to form a skirt.

Malian troops patrol Timbuktu on 29 January 2013
Malian troops have been trying to prevent looting

Most of them wear a thin scarf over their head, just as they had in the past.

There is an incredible feeling that the people are slowly coming back to life here.

However, many have also been quick to vent the frustration and anger built up over months, which, they say, felt like a lifetime.

Scenes of looting on Tuesday revealed the deep inter-communal grievances and raised concerns about possible reprisal attacks.

Dozens of people were out in the streets breaking into shops owned by ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs, whom they accuse of having collaborated with the militant Islamists.

Weapons and boxes of ammunition were pulled out of at least one shop.

However, most Arabs and Tuaregs have already left Timbuktu in fear of violence.

But it is also time to uncover the wounds inflicted by the militants.

In the city centre, a local bank had been turned into the headquarters of the Islamic police.

The symbol of the jihadis - marked with a Koran, an AK-47 rifle and a cutlass that militants had cemented into the wall - has been taken down.

A tiny cash machine attached to the building around the corner was used as a cell.

"They threw me in and whipped me," says Salaka Djikke, 25.

Ms Djikke was arrested at around 23:00 on New Year's Eve as she went for a romantic ride on her boyfriend's motorcycle.

When they arrived in front of his house, her boyfriend saw four jihadis coming at them. She did not see them and got off the bike.

"He drove off and got away, but they rushed at me and whipped me."

Ms Djikke was sentenced to 95 lashes. It was carried out in a public place, all for being caught with a man she was not married to.

Her boyfriend managed to escape and reached the capital, Bamako. He could have been stoned to death had he been arrested.

Despite the scars she bears, Ms Djikke says that she does not regret taking the risk.

"If they didn't hurt you, they'd hurt your sister or your brother. They terrorised the population," she says.

"Even living under Sharia, it shouldn't be a crime to fall in love with another person," she says.

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