Monday, January 28, 2013

Black History: Timbuktu Library Torched as Rebels flee French

Torch and go: Islamists burn down rare manuscript library in Timbuktu

Published: 28 January, 2013, 18:49

  Islamist rebels have burnt down a library full of ancient manuscripts in the Malian town of Timbuktu as they fled, according to officials. The South African-funded library contained thousands of priceless documents dating back to the 13th century.
Ancient manuscripts displayed at the library in the city of Timbuktu. Islamists fleeing Timbuktu in the face of a French-led offensive have torched a building housing ancient Arabic manuscripts, security and army sources said on January 28, 2013 (AFP Photo / Evan Schneider)
Ancient manuscripts displayed at the library in the city of Timbuktu. Islamists fleeing Timbuktu in the face of a French-led offensive have torched a building housing ancient Arabic manuscripts, security and army sources said on January 28, 2013 (AFP Photo / Evan Schneider)
"The rebels sit fire to the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute built by the South Africans … this happened four days ago," Timbuktu Mayor Halle Ousmane Ciffe told Reuters by telephone from Bamako.
According to the official, he received the information from his chief of communications, who had traveled south from the town on Sunday.
The manuscripts were being kept in two different locations, an old warehouse and a new research center – the Ahmed Baba Institute. Both buildings were burned down, according to the mayor, who was unable to say immediately if any of the manuscripts had survived in fire. Named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare, the Ahmed Baba Institute housed more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts. Some were stored in underground vaults.
“The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage, but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north," added Ciffe.
The majority of the ancient books burnt were written in Arabic and covered a wide range of topics such as astronomy, music, poetry, medicine, geography, history and religion. The oldest dated back to the beginning of the 13th century.
The Islamist fighters also burned down the town hall and the governor's office, and reportedly shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.
French troops and the Malian army closed in on Timbuktu on Saturday night and secured the local airport and roads leading to the desert town. But they got there too late to save the leather-bound manuscripts from fire, which were a record of sub-Saharan Africa's medieval history.
The Islamist rebels had captured the trading town nine months ago. During their rule, the militants have had systematically destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu, according to its mayor.
A researcher for the Ahmed Baba Institute, Seydo Traore, told media that some rebels had been sleeping in the new institute.
"They were the masters of the place," he said, adding that the militants had also destroyed the shrines of more than 300 Sufi saints dotted around the town.
Timbuktu is situated 950km north of Mali’s capital of Bamako and lies on an ancient caravan route. The destruction of the town’s library marked the latest inroad by the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali.

French-led troops regain Timbuktu from rebels

Malian and French troops enter the ancient city of Timbuktu, but one northern town remains in rebel hands.
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2013 23:19
French and Malian troops have taken control of the historic Malian city of Timbuktu, after rebel occupiers fled the ancient Sahara trading town and torched several buildings, including a priceless manuscript library.
The French-led coalition troops were welcomed by residents of the town, AFP news agency reported with some residents saying that the rebel fighters had left the city several days ago.
"The Malian army and the French army are in complete control of the town of Timbuktu. Everything is under control," a colonel in the Malian army told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A French military source said there were fears they could have dotted the city with mines, adding that they were in the process of "securing" it.
Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Timbuktu said that the streets were almost empty when the coalition troops arrived.
"As we got deeper into the city the crowd got bigger."
Malian troops have been leading the entrance into various towns with the French troops numbering about 3,000 behind them. Rowland said that this was intended to give the impression that Malian troops are retaking the town while they were actually being reinstalled in the town by the French troops.
She said that there had been little fighting as the coalition troops re-took various towns, and that the rebels had simply "melted away", possibly into Mauritania and other neighbouring countries.
"Some people say that this may look like a problem postponed," with likelihood of the return of the rebels at a later stage, Rowland said.
Earlier on Monday, a breakaway group from the al-Qaeda linked Ansar Dine group and Tuareg rebels announced that they had claimed control of a northern town, Kidal.
French President Francois Hollande told reporters on Monday that France was winning the battle, but added that it would be up to African forces to tackle rebels in the northern part of Mali once the key towns in the region were retaken.
"Then the Africans can take over the baton," Hollande said. "They are the ones who will go into the northern part, which we know is the most difficult because that's where the terrorists are hiding."
Nearly 8,000 African troops from Chad and the west African grouping ECOWAS are expected to take over from the French troops, but their deployment has been sluggish with 2,700 split between Mali and Niger.
The African-led force will require a budget of $460m, with the African Union pledging $50m to the mission on the final day of its summit in Addis Ababa on Monday.
Ancient manuscripts
One resident who had cried out "Vive la France" was "burnt alive" as the rebels left the Timbuktu.
Fears also soared for the city's cultural heritage when a building housing tens of thousands of manuscripts from the ancient Muslim world and Greece was set aflame.
Mayor Ousmane confirmed the fire at the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research which housed between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts, according to Mali's culture ministry.
However, Shamil Jeppie of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project at South Africa's University of Cape Town said he had no news from the ground but believed some of the most important documents may have been smuggled out or hidden in recent months.
"I've heard from reliable sources on the ground that the private libraries took good care of hiding or taking out their stuff," Jeppie said.

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