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A crowd cheers the arrival of French soldiers in Timbuktu, in northern Mali on Monday. Backed by French helicopters and paratroopers, Malian soldiers entered the city after al-Qaida-linked militants fled into the desert. Arnaud Roine / Ecpad via Associated Press
Tuareg fighters say they have taken northern city and some towns
As French and Malian soldiers held control of the fabled desert city of Timbuktu following the retreat of Islamist extremists, Tuareg fighters claimed on Tuesday that they control the strategic city of Kidal and other northern towns.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad - the Tuareg group's name for northern Mali - appeared to have taken advantage of a French-led bombing and ground campaign to dislodge al-Qaida-linked Islamist fighters from Mali.
Phone lines were down in Kidal, making it difficult to independently confirm the group's claim.
The Tuareg movement said on their website that it was ready to work with French troops and fight terror organizations.
However, it said it would refuse to allow Malian soldiers in Kidal, and the other towns under its control in northeastern Mali, following allegations that the troops killed civilians suspected of having links to the Islamists.
It said it "decided to retake these localities with all urgency to assure the security of the belongings, and more particularly of people, because of the grave danger their lives faced with the return of the Malian army, marching in the footsteps of the French army".
Hundreds of Malians looted stores in Timbuktu on Tuesday, saying the shops belonged to "Arabs" and "terrorists" linked to the radical Islamists who occupied the desert town for 10 months.
The angry crowd plundered stores they told AFP belonged to Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who they say supported the al-Qaida-linked Islamists.
An AFP journalist witnessed the looters finding arms and military communications equipment in some of the shops.
However, most of the residents of the impoverished town on the edge of the Sahara desert, hit by food and water shortages, seized whatever they could get their hands on: televisions, satellites, food and furniture.
Some fought among themselves for items while others smashed in shop doors, emptying them within minutes.
In the suburb of Abaradjou, a man living in a former bank converted by the Islamists into a "committee of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice", was dragged out by a hysterical crowd who then pillaged the building.
(China Daily 01/30/2013 page11)