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Witnesses accuse Malian soldiers of torture and murder

In northern Mali, the country's army frequently turns to torture and murder against people suspected of backing armed Islamist groups, according to doctors, Malian and French troops and an AFP journalist. The scale of the phenomenon is difficult to assess. Are such rights abuses the outcome of a deliberate counter-insurgency strategy in desert territory where people are more favourable to the Islamists than in the south, or is torture the work of a few hotheads?

France to unfreeze development aid to Mali: minister

Paris has officially resumed development aid to Mali after suspending it in the wake of a March 2012 coup that triggered a rebellion in the north and French military intervention, France's development minister said Monday. "We stopped aid for development for months following the coup and now, today, we are renewing (that aid)," Pascal Canfin said during a visit to a hospital in Mopti, central Mali, built using funds from France and Belgium.

UNESCO chief 'worried' over Timbuktu heritage, pledges help

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova warned Thursday that ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu are at risk of being trafficked out of Mali and pledged to help restore the fabled city's heritage damaged by radical Islamists. Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who seized control of Timbuktu last year caused a global outcry by destroying ancient Muslim saints' shrines they considered idolatrous and burning priceless manuscripts before a French-led military campaign reclaimed the city on January 28.

Mass grave discovered in Timbuktu: Mauritanian media

A mass grave containing several bodies was discovered in Timbuktu in northern Mali, recently recaptured from Islamist rebels by French-led forces, a Mauritanian news agency said Saturday. Three bodies in the grave were recognisable, all of them "Arab shopkeepers who had recently been arrested by Malian soldiers and had not been heard from since," according to independent news site ANI. The discovery was made Friday, ANI reported.

UN assessing Timbuktu damage, says funds no problem

The UN cultural organisation UNESCO is assessing the damage wreaked on Mali's historic city of Timbuktu and repairing the mausoleums of saints alone will cost up to five million euros, its chief said Friday. Known as "the City of 333 Saints" or "The Pearl of the Desert", Timbuktu was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988 and is an ancient centre of Islamic learning. But Islamists who occupied the city for 10 months destroyed the mausoleums of 11 saints and the entrance to the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque, claiming they were blasphemous.

UNESCO says millions needed to restore Mali heritage

PARIS, Feb 8 (Reuters) - African officials and academics will meet in Paris this month to discuss how to repair and safeguard mausoleums and ancient manuscripts in Mali that were destroyed by Islamist rebels, U.N. cultural agency UNESCO said. UNESCO believes most of some 300,000 centuries-old texts, ranging from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices, are safe, although around 2,000 manuscripts may have been lost at the ransacked Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu.

Stretched in Timbuktu, French wait for African reinforcements

* French patrols hunt Islamists in surrounding desert scrub * Follow-up African military force is taking time to arrive * Timbuktu residents, still fearful, want French to stay * French wary of getting bogged down, pullout from March By David Lewis TIMBUKTU, Mali, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Patrolling Timbuktu's maze of mud-brick houses, the French troops quickly lost their way, their jeeps stuck, wheels spinning, in the sand of the ancient Saharan trading town.

'We can't live without Arabs, Tuaregs': Timbuktu mayor

Timbuktu has long been a crossroads of north and sub-Saharan Africa, but its mayor fears its cosmopolitan identity is at risk as light-skinned residents flee reprisals after a 10-month occupation by Islamists. The fabled caravan city rose to fame in the 14th century as a trading hub where Arabs and Tuaregs exchanged northern salt for southern gold transported by black Africans to the edge of the Sahara.

France working to 'quickly' withdraw Timbuktu forces: FM

France is working to "very quickly" withdraw its forces from Timbuktu, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday, without making clear if the troops would be sent further into the north of Mali. "We want to be rapidly relieved by the AFISMA African forces in the cities that we hold," Fabius told France Inter radio. In Timbuktu a withdrawal "could take place very quickly, we are working on it," he said.

Mali's soccer victory caps Timbuktu's post-Islamist rebirth

By David Lewis TIMBUKTU, Mali, Feb 3 (Reuters) - For months, Salaha Najim would discreetly put up a satellite dish banned by the Islamist rebels in dusty Timbuktu, close the shutters of his house and turn on the television to watch soccer with the sound turned down. On Saturday, the windows were open wide again and the volume was unashamedly loud as Mali's national team, the Eagles, beat South Africa in a penalty shootout to reach the semifinals of the African Nations Cup.
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