Looting in Timbuktu, donors pledge $455m
Looting in Timbuktu, donors pledge $455m
Life in the ancient desert city freed from Islamist control on Monday started returning to normal as soldiers patrolled its dusty streets, but soon large crowds began pillaging.
They plundered stores they said belonged to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who they accuse of supporting the Al Qaeda-linked Islamists during their 10-month rule over the ancient center of Islamic learning.
The looters took everything from arms and military communications equipment to televisions, food and furniture, emptying shops in minutes.
In the suburb of Abaradjou, a man living in a former bank converted by the Islamists into a “comittee of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” was dragged out by a hysterical crowd who then pillaged the building, taking even office chairs.
The bearded middle-aged man was arrested by Malian troops. “He is an Islamist,” one soldier said, as other troops turned their weapons toward the crowd to prevent them from lynching the man.
The mob yelled: “He is not from here, he is a terrorist!“
Malian soldiers put an end to the looting in the middle of the morning.
“We will not let people pillage. But it is true that weapons were found in some shops,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.
African leaders and international officials meanwhile pledged over $455 million (340 million euro) at a donor conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for military operations in Mali and humanitarian aid.
“I am glad to report that the overall amount that was pledged here reached the amount of $455.53 million,” African Union peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said, after the conference in the AU headquarters in Ethiopia.
A woeful lack of cash and logistical resources has hampered deployment of nearly 6,000 west African troops under the African-led force for Mali (AFISMA) which is expected to take over the offensive from the French army.
So far, just 2,000 African troops have been sent to Mali or neighboring Niger, many of them from Chad whose soldier contribution is independent from the AFISMA force. The bulk of fighting has been borne by some 2,900 French troops.
Lamamra said Monday the African force will cost $460 million, with the AU promising to contribute an “unprecedented” $50 million for the mission and Mali’s army.
The International Monetary Fund has agreed to provide an $18.4 million emergency loan to Mali. Japan said it would give an extra $120 million to help stabilize the Sahel region, days after 10 Japanese nationals were killed in the Algerian hostage siege.
The far northern town of Kidal is the biggest goal remaining for the troops, and many of the Islamists who fled their strongholds before the soldiers arrived are believed to have melted away into the hills surrounding the town, 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako.
Amid the euphoria over the French-led troops’ victory in Timbuktu, shock spread over reports the fleeing Islamists had torched a building housing priceless ancient manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages.
Timbuktu mayor Halley Ousmane, speaking from the capital Bamako, confirmed accounts of the fire at the Ahmed Baba Center for Documentation and Research.
“It’s a real cultural crime,” he said.
Set up in 1973, the center housed between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts, according to Mali’s culture ministry. However experts believe many of the documents may have been smuggled out and hidden when the crisis began.
US defense chief Mattis to visit China amid Korea talks
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis will make his first visit to China this week amid rising tensions between the two countries but also a deep need for Beijing’s support in nuclear talks with North Korea.
Mattis told reporters Sunday he wants to “take measure” of China’s strategic ambitions after it positioned weaponry on disputed islets in the South China Sea and is seeking to project its military power deep into the Pacific.
But in a four-day trip that will also include South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon chief also hopes to confirm China’s commitment to pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, after historic talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
The United States, China, Japan and South Korea “have a common goal: the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.
In Beijing From Tuesday to Thursday, Mattis will meet with senior Chinese defense officials.
Then he will travel to Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo, followed by a stop Friday in Japan to see defense chief Itsunori Onodera.
Those meetings are aimed at reassuring both allies that Washington’s regional defense commitment remains unchanged after Trump unexpectedly announced on June 12 that the US would suspend a major joint military exercise in South Korea following his meeting with Kim.
The visit to China comes amid bilateral strains that cross multiple sectors. The Trump administration is challenging China on trade, theft of industrial secrets, and cyberthreats.
In the defense sector, China’s decision to position military hardware in built-up atolls in the South China Sea has sparked new security concerns throughout Southeast Asia.
Signaling Washington’s displeasure, in May the Pentagon disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, in which some two dozen navies train together for mostly civilian missions.
Weeks later at the Shangri-la Dialogue security conference in Singapore, Mattis slammed China for showing contempt of other nations’ interests in the South China Sea.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.
The Chinese, who say the weaponry is only defensive in nature, retorted that Mattis had made “irresponsible comments” that “cannot be accepted.”
Mattis has visited Asia seven times in his 17 months since becoming defense secretary, but not China. He has yet to meet the new Chinese defense minister, Wei Fenghe.
He said the talks in Beijing seek to scope out China’s long-term strategic intentions and determine possible areas of military-to-military cooperation.
He declined to characterize the relationship, saying that could “poison the well” before he meets his counterparts.
“I’m going there to get what I consider to be straight from them what they see for a strategic relationship,” he said. “I’m going there to have a conversation.”
But speaking separately a senior Pentagon official called the United States and China “strategic competitors” and suggested that Washington needs to keep up the pressure over the South China Sea buildup.
The Rimpac disinvite could be “just a first step,” the official said.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Mattis was visiting Beijing at Wei’s invitation.
“It is in the common interests of both China and the United States to develop a healthy and stable bilateral military relationship,” Ren said in a statement.
Beijing “hopes that the United States and China will walk toward each other and work together to make the bilateral military relationship an important stabilizing factor in the relationship between the two countries.”
Mattis will also be adding his voice to North Korea talks, urging China to hold firm on commercial pressure on Pyongyang.
He said he has had daily discussions on the talks with the lead US negotiator, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The senior US defense official said they are hoping to see a concrete outcome, including a timeline for commitments by Pyongyang, “soon.”
Mattis tied the suspension of exercises to the getting concrete results.
“We’ll see if they continuing negotiations keep them that way.”
Mattis meanwhile confirmed that US officials are awaiting the imminent release by Pyongyang of the remains of US servicemen who died in the Korean war in the early 1950s.
Preparations to receive the remains have been made, he said, and “We’re optimistic that it will begin.”