Islamists burn priceless manuscripts as French-led troops surround Timbuktu
Islamists torched a building where priceless ancient manuscripts were stored, as they fled Mali's famous desert city of Timbuktu, which French-led troops were surrounding on Monday.
A building housing over 60 thousand manuscripts from the ancient Muslim world and Greece was set aflame, raising fears of further damage to the country's cultural heritage after months of destruction by Islamists.
French paratroopers tried to block fleeing hardliners as ground troops coming from the south seized the airport of Timbuktu, which has been a bastion of the jihadists controlling the north for 10 months.
"We control the airport at Timbuktu," a senior officer with the Malian army told journalists. "We did not encounter any resistance."
French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said the troops, backed up by helicopters, had taken less than 48 hours to seize control of the so-called Niger Loop between Timbuktu and Gao.
Timbuktu mayor Halley Ousmane, who is in Bamako, 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.
"I spoke to my media officer this morning. What has happened in Timbuktu is dramatic," he said.
Ousmane said he had also been informed that Islamists had "burnt alive" a resident who had cried out "Vive la France".
The Ahmed Baba institute was set up in 1973. A new building was opened in 2009 following a bilateral agreement with South Africa to promote the conservation, research and promotion of the manuscripts as African heritage.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday that London was "keen" to contribute more in addition to two transport planes and a