Fear of Islamists lingers, but Timbuktu revels in new freedom

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TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — 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 said today. “They hit everyone — even children.”

The Islamists seized control of Timbuktu and the other northern provincial capitals of Gao and Kidal last April. During 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.

Fatouma Traore, 21, said 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 ... 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 hoists her 1-year-old niece on one hip, saying: “We even bought a veil for this baby.”

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

Ousmane Halle, the mayor of Timbuktu, toured the city in a pickup today, flanked by three bodyguards. He had returned on after a temporary exile in the capital of Bamako, 620 miles southwest.

Authorities were scouring the city for land mines Islamists planted. The Malian military said four soldiers were killed and five others wounded by a land mine on the road to Gao.

In Timbuktu, French forces are searching for land mines. However, Moussa Traore, 26, a teacher, said the sense of freedom 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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