"They are trying to reassure the population … But I’m not reassured"
Asnar Dine militiamen are patrolling the city, but we still see the occasional MNLA member. The situation between the two groups seems tense. Monday night we heard gunshots, but it was unclear exactly who was doing the firing.The MNLA never really controlled the city. When they arrived, no one tried to stop them, so they were able to drive around in their four-wheelers, until Asnar Dine took over. But after talks between Islamists and religious leaders, life went somewhat back to normal.For the time being, Islamists are searching for looting militiamen and forcing them to return stolen goods to residents. [According to AFP, the rebels paraded shackled robbers down the street, then vowed to cut off the hands of future thieves, in accordance with sharia law]. I heard that they covered the bills of injured people at the city hospital [according to Radio France International, they secured the hospital and asked female personnel to wear headscarves]. Their strategy is obviously driven by their religious beliefs, but they are also trying to reassure the population.However, being a Christian, I’m not really reassured. I have relatives living in Gao who told me that rebels there ravaged one of the churches [the offices of the Christian charity Caritas were also destroyed]. They were forced to flee to Niger for safety, and have strongly recommended that I leave for the capital, Bamako. But very few cars and buses are leaving the city, and they are packed.
"I have the feeling they don’t want to generate violence in a holy city they respect"
When I left the city yesterday, the situation seemed fairly peaceful. Members of the rebel groups were talking to locals, sometimes sharing a cup of tea.Of course, some of the city’s residents panicked at the sight of these fundamentalists. Many bought arms after the military camp was looted on Sunday, and are preparing to defend themselves if need be. Most people would prefer for a government to be formed rapidly in [the Malian capital] Bamako, so that there can be peaceful talks between national emissaries and representatives of the rebels who took control of the city. [Mali’s government was overthrown by a coup on March 21. The coup’s leaders, however, called for transition talks Wednesday].The Islamists have announced that they want to restore order and pacify the city. I have the feeling they don’t want to generate violence in a holy city they respect. I have already come across members of AQMI in the city, well before the rebel attack. They were approaching people in a market to tell them about their morals and advise them to follow God’s will and not to work with white people, because they are infidels.The problem is that Islamists refuse the modern lifestyle most people lead in Timbuktu. But I’m convinced that our city will suffer less than others under sharia law, since our residents are mainly Muslim and already very pious. However I don’t see sharia law going down well in other cities, where multiple cultures have lived side by side for many years. Many people want to preserve this diversity.