Cheers for François Hollande, hero of Mali

... but it's not yet mission accomplished for the French President


They put on their most colourful clothes, belted out music, danced and, repeatedly and rhythmically, chanted his name. The people of Timbuktu were demonstrating that the shackles of Islamist sharia had been broken and hailing their deliverer, François Hollande .

There was no doubting the warmth and gratitude in the welcome given to the French President by Malians, on his first visit since sending in troops. But behind the scenes there are ominous signs that the swift campaign which had driven the jihadists from the territory they controlled is not the end of this war.

Over the last few days there have been discoveries of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the deaths of Malian soldiers from a landmine. At the same time the incendiary ethnic divisions that sparked the current turmoil have resurfaced just as the rebels are about to lose their final stronghold.

There is an unofficial stand-off at the northern town of Kidal between French troops and their Malian partners, who are not being allowed into large parts of the town due to fears they would take murderous revenge on its Tuareg residents. Instead it is Chadian soldiers who are providing the African security presence.

Tuareg fighters, armed with the looted arsenal of the Gaddafi regime which they served before it fell, had raised the flag of Azawad in Kidal. The rebellion was joined by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, who took over leadership and the weaponry, first sidelining and then driving out the Tuareg.

Since then the community had been under attack from both sides, with Malian troops carrying our summary executions of "terrorist suspects". Under pressure from the French, Mali's interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, has begun talks with the Tuareg separatists, a deeply unpopular move among the army who carried out a coup last year. The United Nations' special advisor on prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, warned that human rights abuses, already prevalent, will worsen further unless urgent counter-measures are taken. "We must tell President Hollande that he has cut down the tree but still has to tear up its roots. I am deeply concerned at the risk of reprisal attacks against ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians."

None of the unpleasantness was mentioned by officials during President Hollande's three hours and 48 minutes on the ground yesterday. In Timbuktu he visited the mosque of Djingareyber, an architectural masterpiece made out of mud 700 years ago, and the Ahmed Baba library where the jihadists had carried out their last concerted action before leaving the city – making a bonfire of priceless historic manuscripts.

The area, normally crowded, was sealed off by French armoured personnel carriers. Two dozen dignitaries were there to meet Mr Hollande's party, which included the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. "He is the man who saved Mali, it is an honour to meet him. Without him we would never have got rid of the Salafists," said Khalif Mualam Traore, a local imam. "They stopped people from thanking Allah at the end of prayers. They beat people for no reason."

Umar Sekou, a hotel owner, pointed out that ethnic divisions continued under the jihadists. "They normally punished black people most severely, not the Arabs. That's because so many of them were foreigners from places like Algeria and Tunisia. After the French came, the Arabs fled with the jihadists, their shops and businesses got looted, we found weapons in their homes."

Mr Hollande then visited the Ahmed Baba library, where he was shown the charred manuscripts, a reminder, said Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco who was accompanying the President, that the jihadists were intent on destroying Mali's history as well as oppressing its people.

There were tumultous greetings at the square for the French President, with French soldiers and Malian police struggling to control the surging crowd of more than 5,000. "All Mali is grateful to him, but especially the women," exclaimed Hania Kalbati, a 24-year-old teacher. "We lived in a constant night, they took away all our freedoms. We could not work, we had to cover ourselves all the time in the darkest clothes. We are glad all that is over."

But Mr Hollande told French troops at Timbuktu airport: "The conflict is not over, it would be a mistake to think that because we have restored order in towns like Gao and Timbuktu we can stop there."

Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

£110 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently seeking a ...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor