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Exclusive: Eyewitness in Islamist-held Timbuktu

media A group of Islamists after vandalising a Unesco-listed site in Timbuktu … AFP

Timbuktu is a ghost town, the first international journalist to enter the city since it was taken over by the Islamist militia Ansar Dine reports. Residents have fled the imposition of strict sharia law, including vicious beatings, and shortages of power and water.

“Three months after the occupation of Timbuktu by the mujahedin of Ansar Dine, a ghost town greets the first visitor,” writes our Moussa Kaka on RFI’s website in French. “Faced with the brutality of the town’s new masters, the Islamists, all who can have fled.”

First the Tuaregs, the majority racial group in north Mali, fled, shopkeeper Amine Touré tells him. They were followed by Arabs, the Songhais, the main ethnic group in the city, and other blacks.

For those left behind water and electricity are rationed and prices have risen. A kilo of rice now costs 450 CFA francs (69 euro centimes).

Sharia law has led to tough punishment and the threatened destruction of some of the city’s world heritage-listed shrines, erected by Sufi Muslims whom the fundamentalists accuse of idolatry and heresy.

Ansar Dine has already vandalised the Sidi Yahia cemetery.

“Here there was a door. Timbuktuans believed that if it was opened the world would end. That’s why we broke it down,” explains Ansar Dine member Sanda Ould Bouamana.

The movement has also destroyed a large part of the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar.

Men are forbidden to talk to women in the streets or to smoke, Kaka reports.

Although the fighting is over, reinforcements for the Islamists have arrived from Algeria. Leaders of Ecowas have asked for a UN mandate to send a west African force to north Mali to fight Islamists and Tuareg separatists.

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