"In the region liberated by jihadist groups, the population is celebrating" said Fr. Edmond Dembele, Secretary General of the Catholic bishops' conference of Mali, where the French and Malian military are advancing in the north of the country to recapture the cities that since last March had fallen into the hands of jihadist groups.
"Radio and television stations continue to transmit the manifestations of joy of city dwellers as soon as recaptured by the Malian and French forces. People are happy with the newfound freedom and the ability to return to a normal life. In Gao, the mayor is back in town and noted with satisfaction that the people are returning to their normal life as usual, " said Fr. Dembele, a Malian Catholic priest. The various jihadist groups had imposed the strict observance of Muslim law, including mutilations and executions.
After liberating Gao, Malian and French soldiers reached Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The damages to the artistic heritage of Timbuktu, a center for Islamic African culture for centuries, has yet to be assessed. Jihadi Muslim terrorists have already destroyed the mausoleums of revered Sufi Muslim mystics, while it is feared that invaluable collections of books and documents may also have been destroyed. According to the Timbuktu mayor, jihadists fleeing the city four days ago burned down the Ahmed Baba Institute, a bibliographic center built with funding from South Africa.
On January 28, French paratroops and Malian military captured the airport at Timbuktu and are advancing on the city. Following fierce fighting elsewhere in Mali's northern region, which had been under the sway of Muslim militants, sorties of French aircraft provided air support to French, Malian and allied forces in re-taking the key city of Gao on the January 26-27 weekend.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.