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Timbuktu turning into a 'ghost town'

25 January 2013, 15:12

Bamako - Radical Islamists have left fabled Timbuktu in northern Mali, turning it into a "ghost town" with no electricity or drinking water for three days, residents and officials said Thursday.

"There is no water. The people have left and the Islamists too. It's a ghost town," said municipal official Moctar Ould Kery.

A resident confirmed the information, saying: "For three days there has been no power or potable water", amid a French-led military campaign to oust the Islamist groups that seized control of northern Mali in April 2012.

A regional security source said the Islamists were "regrouping in the region of Kidal", in Mali's extreme northeast.

The Islamists kept the electricity and water running with generators but their departure left a vacuum, especially as their fuel stocks had been destroyed in French air raids.

French planes on Sunday night bombed a major base of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) near Timbuktu, destroying a mansion belonging to Libya's former strongman Muammar Gaddafi which was being used by Islamist radicals as their headquarters.

A fabled caravan town on the edge of the Sahara desert, Timbuktu - which lies 900km  from Mali's capital Bamako - was for centuries a key centre of Islamic learning and has become a byword for exotic remoteness in the Western imagination.

Today Timbuktu is a battlefield, overrun by Islamist militants who have been razing its world-heritage religious sites in a destructive rampage that the United Nations cultural agency deplored as "tragic".



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