Hollande visits recently recaptured Timbuktu; says Mali battle isn't over


France's President Francois Hollande (L) flanked by Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore (R), wave as Hollande arrives at the airport of Timbuktu, the second step of his one-day visit in Mali, on February 2, 2013. Islamists had torched the building housing priceless ancient manuscripts as they fled the town.


Fred Dufour

Francois Hollande visited Timbuktu on Saturday, a week after French forces successfully recaptured the fabled city from Islamist rebels who were controlling much of Mali's north. 

France's president was met with a triumphant welcome, as Malians chanting "Thank you, France!" and "Vive la France!" mobbed him upon his arrival in Timbuktu, Reuters reported.

"The women of Timbuktu will thank Francois Hollande forever," said Fanta Diarra Toure, one of thousands of people who gathered to welcome him in the city's main square. "We must tell him that he has cut down the tree but still has to tear up its roots." 

Hollande and his defense, foreign affairs, and development personnel were met by Dioncounda Traore, Mali's interim president. 

"It shows how much France is determined to go all the way side by side with Mali. We ask France to continue with us," Traore said at Hollande's welcome reception, BBC News reported. Hollande's team was also due to visit Bamako. 

More from GlobalPost: Mali: French troops take last rebel stronghold in Kidal

However, Hollande stressed that the battle was far from over, urging African troops to replace French soldiers at their posts quickly, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

“The fight is not over,” Hollande told troops during a walking tour of the ancient city of Timbuktu, according to remarks on French television. “It isn’t our role to stay because our African friends will be able to do the work that was ours until now. Then Malians will ensure security of all Mali’s territory.”

After the successful three-week military offensive, it remains to be seen if Mali will be able to hold on to the peace or if a guerilla war is brewing. Hollande expressed concern about "reprisal" attacks in the captured cities, and there are worrying allegations of abuse within the Malian army to contend with, the Guardian reported.