Malian women laugh as one pulls her veil saying she doesn't need it any longer in the central market in Gao, Northern Mali, Wednesday Jan. 30, 2013. The mission by French troops scored another success in its effort to dislodge the al-Qaida-linked militants from northern Mali, and freed from Islamic rule over the weekend, women started coming out wearing bright colors, makeup and jewels, after 10 month of black veils and sharia laws.

Jerome Delay, Associated Press - Ap

Timbuktu revels in new freedom but fears linger

  • Associated Press
  • January 31, 2013 - 5:39 AM

TIMBUKTU, Mali - A leaflet listing the regulations for women under Islamist rule now lies in dirt here at the tribunal in Timbuktu. Rule No. 1: The veil should cover the entire body. Rule No. 4: The veil cannot be colored. And Rule No. 8: The woman should not perfume herself after putting on the all-enveloping fabric.

Several days after French special forces parachuted in and liberated this storied city, there is a growing sense of freedom. Though in the houses immediately facing the Islamic tribunal, many of the 8- and 9-year-old girls are still wearing the head covering.

"It is out of fear of the Islamists that they still wear this, says Diahara Adjanga, the mother of one girl. "They hit everyone — even children."

The Islamists seized control of Timbuktu and the other northern provincial capitals of Gao and Kidal last April. During the nearly 10 months of their rule, the al-Qaida-linked extremists imposed harsh regulations for women and publicly whipped those who went in public without veils.

Across northern Mali, the Islamists stoned to death a couple accused of adultery, and amputated the hands of suspected thieves in actions reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The French military launched an intervention to oust the Islamists from power in northern Mali on Jan. 11 and rapidly forced their retreats from the major towns in less than three weeks' time.

Fatouma Traore, 21, said that there was one commander who was especially brutal to the women in Timbuktu.

"We don't want the army to catch him. It's the women who want to arrest him so that we can kill him ourselves. . Even if you're talking to your own blood brother on the stoop of your house, they hit you. Even if you are wearing the veil, and it happens to slip off, they hit you. This man, Ahmed Moussa, he made life miserable for women. Even an old grandmother if she's not covered up, he would hit her."

She picks up her 1-year-old niece and hoists her on one hip, and says: We even bought a veil for this baby.

Timbuktu still looks mostly deserted, four days after it was liberated from Islamist rule.

The electricity and the phone networks remain cut. At night, the only illumination is the light given off by people's cell phones and the flashlights they have inside shops and hotels.

At the entrance to the town, there is a single checkpoint manned by a few Malian soldiers who flag down entering cars. Each car that is allowed to enter the city at night is signaled by a warning shot fired into the air.

A French armored personnel carrier on Thursday stood sentinel in the middle of the city. In the market, over a dozen shops owned by the city's Arab population have been gutted, pillaged by the population because the town's Arab citizens were suspected of having been allied with the Islamists.

Some fear the Islamists could return once French forces leave, though Moussa Traore, a 26-year-old teacher, said the sense of freedom already is overwhelming.

"We were totally deprived of our liberty. We couldn't listen to music, we couldn't play soccer. We couldn't wear the clothes we wanted. We couldn't hang out with the girls we liked," he said. "Now we can do everything — we can listen to music, we can kick a ball, we can flirt. All I can do is say: Thank you God."

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