Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Timbuktu, Gao And Kidal Fall To Tuareg Rebels


Here I am in downtown Timbuktu, 4 years ago

When I would tell people I was going to Mali or I had gone to Mali they would look at me incomprehensibly. Maui? Bali? I almost never met an American who knew where Mali was. But when I would mention Timbuktu there was at least some comprehension that I wasn't taking about Hawaii. Four years ago, a topper of a month Roland and I spent in Mali, we finally made it to fabled Timbuktu. I had imagined it as the city in Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, which it isn't, but we discovered a unique and fascinating, hospitable if remote town on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

This week Timbuktu fell to Tuareg rebels, savage desert nomads who fervently believe in slavery. Hundreds of thousands of Malians have fled south, as the Tuaregs captured Gao, Kidal and now Timbuktu, the entire northern two-thirds of the country.
Mali's army is reported to have deserted the military base of Timbuktu, the last town in the north under government control, as Tuareg separatists pounded it with heavy weapons. Coup leaders have reinstated the constitution after pressure from neighbouring countries.

Shells could be heard exploding at the base even though it was deserted, local residents told news agencies by phone Sunday.

The soldiers had fled, some shedding their uniforms, leaving Arab militias from the BĂ©rabish community to defend the town, they said.

Al Jazeera television reported that the town, whose population is mainly ethnic Arab, had fallen to the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which wants a Tuareg homeland in the north of the country.

On Saturday the army quit the largest town in the north, Gao, leaving it to the MNLA which has already captured Kidal.

The Tuareg rebels have been strengthened by the arrival of well armed fighters previously employed by deposed and murdered Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

The military claims that they have links to armed groups connected to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operate in the Sahara.

Timbuktu, a historic city that is on the Unesco World Heritage list, is 800 km north of Bamako and 300 km west of Gao.

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At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For most of my life, the name "Timbuktu" was synonymous with "the back end of nowhere - the remotest of the remote."

Then I saw Art Wolfe's "Travels to the Edge" episode "Mali: Sahel to the Sahara" on PBS. Can I say that there isn't a place photographed by Art Wolfe that I don't want to visit?

Now there's another part of the world that will be off-limits for travelers for the foreseeable future. It's just so sad. Mali joins Iraq, Iran, and so many other places. Most especially for me, I regret that I'll never get to see Afghanistan. (I admit to an affinity to austere -- not bomb-scarred -- landscapes.)


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