The security situation in Mali’s ancient city, Timbuktu remains tense in spite of the defeat suffered by Islamists groups at the hands of French troops operating in the region.
The city was overrun by Islamist militants in 2012 razing down landmark buildings dating back centuries forcing the residents to flee into exile.
But several Timbuktu residents who fled have returned to their homes. And although there are Malian, UN and French forces all around, not all the residents feel at home.
“Well, we really live in fear, although the occupants are gone, we still live in fear and we cannot even go out. You cannot go out of this town beyond a kilometer, really you cannot go,” Toure Abdoulaye, a Timbuktu resident told Africanews’ correspondent.
On April 23, Islamists militants launched an attack on the city killing two Malian soldiers.
Following the incident, security has been beefed up with the number of check-points increased. Residents are subjected to snap checks in a bid to avoid further attacks.
The Commandant of the joint forces in Timbuktu, Colonel Omar Diarra told Africanews that: “To ensure the safety of the city of Timbuktu, we have set up check-points around the city along the main roads. There are joint patrols by the Malian Armed Forces, the police and the MINUSMA police force who secure the interior of the city. I think that we are in the process of reinforcing security at the city of Timbuktu.”
The UN peacekeepers and Malian security personnel carry out joint night patrols in the city between 11pm and 5am local time.
“The public feels at ease with joint patrols, because it falls within the framework of strengthening security,” said Mohammed Salaha, another resident of Timbuktu.
He explained that due to the precarious nature of security in the town, the public feels reassured when the patrol teams are out.
“It tells the public that there is peace, that the security forces are there to reassure us,” Mohammed added.
In spite of the teams’ best efforts, there are still some challenges and problems which seem beyond their reach.
“Admittedly, Timbuktu is a larger region of Mali, so the area is huge,” Colonel Diarra said.
“The population is concentrated along the Niger river. Other than that, 50 kilometers north of the river, is the great desert, it’s open and it’s no man’s land (and it is) difficult to control,” he told Africanews.