Mar 24th
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African Continental

U.S. lauds ‘successful’ French intervention in Mali, seeks polls

THE United States (U.S.) Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday praised the “successful” intervention by France to root out Islamic rebels in northern Mali, and urged Malian leaders to organise elections, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.Kerry came as UNESCO’s 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.Speaking ahead of talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Mali would be among issues discussed during their first meeting at the State Department.“We urge the government to continue the political transition process towards elections and to step up negotiations with the non-extremist groups in the north,” Kerry said.Mali’s army is struggling to restore security after a French-led military intervention helped it push out Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized the country’s north last year and brought in strict Sharia Islamic law.The West African nation imploded after a March coup by soldiers who blamed the government for the army’s humiliation at the hands of north African Tuareg rebels, who had launched an uprising in the north two months earlier.With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the north.France launched its intervention on January 11, after Mali’s interim government called for help fending off the Islamist insurgents as they began to make incursions into government territory.The United States has provided airlift support for French troops, and worked to train and organize an African-led force which is due to move in to take over from the French.But the U.S. administration came under fire from lawmakers yesterday for what the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ed Royce, called its initial “tepid” response “in answering our ally’s call.”“It seems the bureaucracy slowed our pace of support,” Royce told a hearing called to investigate the US response to the crisis in Mali.“This is a NATO ally fighting Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists — it shouldn’t be that hard.” And he cautioned against “an abrupt turnover” to a UN force which would be “a disaster.”But the top U.S. diplomat to Africa, Johnnie Carson, said the transition to a UN-supervised force would not be done “hastily” and that African forces would be “better managed and organized under a UN peace-keeping regime.”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.Most of the city’s 13th- and 14th-century manuscripts were smuggled to safety or hidden during the Islamist occupation, say locals and the curators of a South African-sponsored library where many were housed.But Bokova said some may still be in danger amid the turmoil gripping northern Mali, where the Islamists have launched a string of attacks in recent days.“I’m worried by the possibility of manuscripts being trafficked,” she said in Senegal, where she was on a two-day visit to launch a programme aimed at increasing access to education in sub-Saharan Africa.“Everything must be done to keep (the manuscripts)... for future generations.”She said the UN educational, scientific and cultural body had begun working with neighbouring countries to guard against the manuscripts being smuggled out of Mali and sold.Bokova, who visited Timbuktu with French President Francois Hollande on February 2, condemned the Islamists’ destructive acts as a “tragedy”.“They burned manuscripts, an extraordinary Islamic treasure. I saw barbaric acts of destruction that left nothing but stones” of the saints’ mausoleums, she said.She vowed UNESCO would help restore damaged heritage sites in the city, which rose to fame in the 14th century as a hub of the gold and salt trades and a centre of Islamic learning.“As soon as the situation allows, we will send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. We are very engaged in helping the authorities and local population to rebuild the mausoleums,” she said. 

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