Troops stamp out Timbuktu looting

AFP, TIMBUKTU, Mali

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 - Page 6

Hundreds of Malians looted Arab-owned shops yesterday in Mali’s fabled Timbuktu, newly freed from Islamists, as global donors pledged more than US$455 million for a French-led drive to rout the radicals from the north.

Life in the ancient desert city, freed from Islamist control on Monday, started returning to normal as soldiers patrolled its dusty streets, but soon large crowds began pillaging.

They plundered stores they said belonged to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians, who they accuse of supporting the Islamists during their 10-month rule over the ancient center of Islamic learning.

The looters took everything from arms and military communications equipment to televisions, food and furniture, emptying shops in minutes.

In the suburb of Abaradjou, a man living in a former bank converted by the Islamists into a “committee of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” was dragged out by a hysterical crowd, who then pillaged the building, taking even office chairs.

The bearded middle-aged man was arrested by Malian troops.

“He is an Islamist,” one soldier said, as other troops turned their weapons toward the crowd to prevent them from lynching the man.

The mob yelled: “He is not from here, he is a terrorist.”

Malian soldiers put an end to the looting by the middle of the morning.

“We will not let people pillage, but it is true that weapons were found in some shops,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, African leaders and international officials pledged more than US$455 million at a donor conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for military operations in Mali and humanitarian aid.

“I am glad to report that the overall amount that was pledged here reached the amount of US$455.53 million,” African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said.

A woeful lack of cash and logistical resources has hampered deployment of nearly 6,000 west African troops under the African-led force for Mali, which is expected to take over the offensive from the French army.