The arrival of French troops in Kidal comes after the reconquest, alongside the Malian army and without resistance, the two largest towns in northern Mali, Gao and Timbuktu, which were in the hands of armed Islamist groups who have multiplied abuses for more than nine months. Kidal in 1500 km from Bamako, and the region in the extreme north-east of Mali, near the Algerian border, was the stronghold of Ansar ed-Dine (Defenders of Islam), led by Iyad Ag Ghaly (former Tuareg rebel), an Islamist armed group allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
According to a security source in Mali, the main cause of Islamist groups, including Ag Ghaly and Algerian Abou Zeid, one of AQIM emirs, took refuge in the mountains near the Algerian border. Hundreds of people have fled to Kidal villages further north to Algeria, according to the High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations, which states that access to food and basic necessities has been seriously affected by the conflict and the closure of the border.
Facing the "risk of abuse" and reprisals, the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault wished "the rapid deployment of international observers" to ensure "respect for human rights." Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday had raised "high risk of inter-ethnic tensions" in the North, where the rivalry is strong between the Tuareg and Arab minorities often equated with Islamists, and blacks, the majority in Mali.
For its part, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told the newspaper Le Parisien that French forces leave "quickly" Mali. "Free Gao and Timbuktu quickly part of the plan," said the minister. "Now it is for African countries to take over. We decided to put the resources in men and material to accomplish this mission and hit hard. But the French did not intend to be maintained. We leave quickly. '
The testimonies have also multiplied the destruction of precious manuscripts of Timbuktu dating back several centuries in this city which was the intellectual and spiritual capital of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a prosperous caravan city. The mayor spoke of "cultural crime" about the Ahmed Baba Institute, burnt by the Islamists, which housed between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts, but the exact number of manuscripts burned is not known.
The operation of Timbuktu came two days after taking Gao largest city north and Islamist strongholds, 1 200 km northeast of Bamako. A Ansongo, 80 km south of Gao, a hundred and 4×4 pickups topped with machine guns and light armored vehicles Nigerian and Malian armies came into town to the cheers of the people. "Let me see those liberators," shouted a woman in the middle of horns and placards celebrating the Niger, Mali and France, in the city until recently occupied by the Islamist Movement for uniqueness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).