Malians may be celebrating the liberation of Timbuktu, however some could be mourning the loss of artefacts destroyed by the Islamist rebels as they fled the city.
Two hundred Malian soldiers alongside 1,000 French troops entered the city, named as an endangered world heritage site by UNESCO.
The fleeing militants destroyed the tomb of Saint Sidi Mahmoudou and set fire to mosques and the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library containing many historical documents.
A librarian at the Ahmed Baba Institute described being told about the destruction: “ ‘We destroyed everything. We destroyed the mosque. We destroyed things that are more than 300, 400 years old,’ they said, because their religion doesn’t accept that (the artefacts).”
Timbuktu is home to some 20,000 manuscripts, some dating back as far as the 12th century. Militants destroyed some which had not been hidden away.
UNESCO spokesman Roni Amelan said the Paris-based UN cultural agency was “horrified” by the news of the fire, but was awaiting a full assessment of the damage.
The Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in Timbuktu containing fragile documents dating back to the 13th century, is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare.
The French and Malians have encountered no resistance so far in Timbuktu. But they will now have to comb through a labyrinth of ancient mosques, monuments, mud-brick homes and narrow alleyways to flush out any hiding fighters.
British troops could form part of an EU military training mission in Mali or assist in training soldiers in the west African regional bloc ECOWAS.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has sent a security advisor to meet with French President François Hollande to discuss a deployment.
Up to 240 British troops could be deployed as part of two missions to train African troops, 40 in Mali as part of a European Union mission, and a further 200 in anglophone West African countries, Cameron’s spokesman said.
At least 70 more British personnel could be involved in logistical and support missions. “It is an African operation in support of the Malian government and we think that the right way to do this is for regionally-led forces to take the lead,” the spokesman said, adding Britons would take no combat role.
The increased logistical support for France includes a ferry to transport troops and equipment to Africa, and allowing France and its allies to use Britain for air-to-air refuelling.