France's task in Mali not yet over, Hollande declares on Timbuktu visit
France’s task in Mali is not over, French President François Hollande declared during Saturday’s visit to the historic city of Timbuktu. But he said that French troops would soon hand over to African forces.
“Since 11 January we have already accomplished a great deal of work,” Hollande said. “And it is not over yet. This will take several more weeks but our aim is to pass on the baton.”
Referring to plans for a west African force to take over the military operation in Mali, Hollande insisted that “our African friends will be able to do the work that we have done up until now”.
Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré praised the “efficiency” and “professionalism” of French troops.
"Every Malian is grateful to France for having responded promptly and forcefully to our call for help," he said. "Together we have freed Konna and Diabaly, together we have freed Gao and Timbuktu, together we will free Kidal, Tessalit and together we will track down these terrorists to their last hideouts."
Hollande, who visited some shrines destroyed by Islamist militias with the imam of the city biggest mosque, commented that the fundamentalists had “really wanted to wipe everything out”.
“We will rebuild them, Mr President,” Unesco chief Irina Bokova assured him.
The French president also denounced the attempt to burn centuries-old manuscripts kept in Timbuktu.
“They want to destroy memory,” he remarked.