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Timbuktu Mayor Says Rebels Burned Manuscript Library

Malian soldiers line up to embark on a French Army transport bound for Gao on January 27.
Timbuktu's mayor says Islamist rebels fleeing the Malian city have burned a library housing a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Mayor Ousmane Halle-Cisse said that the rebels burned the Ahmed Baba Institute four days ago.

He called it a "catastrophe" and said that "thousands" of ancient texts on culture, science, and geography housed in the South African-funded library were destroyed.

French troops announced on January 28 that they are now in control of Timbuktu's airport and main access roads into town.

Colonel Thierry Burkhard said Malian forces will move into the former stronghold of Al-Qaeda extremists and that the goal is to avoid combat in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

The advance on Timbuktu comes a day after French and African ground troops liberated the eastern city of Gao.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa