French President Francois Hollade was on Saturday given a tumultuous welcome in Mali’s historic northern city of Timbuktu, 900 kms northeast of Bamako, which soldiers from his country assisted Malian troops to retake from jihadists.
President Hollande was accompanied by his host, Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore, who had earlier welcomed him at the central Malian city of Savere, as he arrived in the West African country to visit soldiers he sent there a few weeks ago to fight rebels who captured large swathes of the north after a coup last year.
The visit is to boost the morale of some 2,500 French soldiers who have led the push to flush out the jihadists.
French and Malian soldiers have driven out the jihadists from key the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.
President Hollande, who is leading a strong delegation, including his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, the Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Minister of Development, Pascal Canfin, said French forces would assist Mali “as long as it is needed.”
He added French soldiers would also assist the country retake the north from the jihadists.
The French President and his host visited the Ahmed Baba centre in Timbuktu where jihadists burned half of thousands of manuscripts as they fled following the retaking of the historic city by the French and Malian troops. They also visited the well-known Mosque of Djinguéyber.
The two presidents are expected in Bamako for a working lunch during which they will discuss the French military intervention in Mali, the management of the post-war area in Mali and several development issues.