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Pahad: SA needs to intervene in Mali

Chairman of the Mali Trust, Essop Pahad, says he hopes South Africa would come to Mali's aid.

A picture taken on April 24, 2012 shows Islamists rebels of Ansar Dine near Timbuktu, in rebel-held northern Mali. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG/PRETORIA - Chairman of the Mali Trust Essop Pahad on Monday said he hoped South Africa would come to Mali's aid, following reports that rebels had burnt or damaged two libraries containing thousands of ancient manuscripts.

Reports on Tuesday however suggested that many of the manuscripts may have been hidden ahead of time and saved.

One of the libraries in Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built with funds from South Africa.

Some of the scrolls apparently date back to the 13th century.

The actions of the al-Qaeda-aligned fighters have been described as a "devastating blow to world heritage".

Pahad described it as an "extraordinary feat of stupidity".

He said, "I'm just totally shattered to hear this very tragic news. President Jacob Zuma and the African Union need to get involved."

MULTINATIONAL MILITARY OPERATION

The Africa Union has taken the unprecedented step of chipping in to pay for a multinational military operation in Mali.

And they've stumped up ahead of Tuesday's pledging conference in Addis Ababa.

The new chairperson of the African Union, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, spelled it when he spoke at Monday's closing session of the 20th AU summit.

"We have decided to contribute funds for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) to the tune of $50 million."

This is more than 10 percent of the originally envisaged $450 million bill for AFISMA.

Donors could on Tuesday be asked for twice that amount if the force doubles in size to 7,000 troops.

Desalegn said the AU's contribution represented an end to Africa simply expecting the international community to pour in all the money.

Western donors said the decision on Mali paves the way for Africa, the continent that represents about three quarters of the United Nations peace keeping budget, to start paying towards other operations.

FRENCH INTERVENTION

The United States and the European Union are backing a French-led intervention in Mali against al Qaeda-allied militants they fear could use the West African state's desert north as a springboard for international attacks.

The recovery of Timbuktu followed the swift capture by French and Malian forces at the weekend in Gao, another major town in Mali's north that had been occupied by the alliance of jihadist groups since last year.

The two-week-old mission by France in its former Sahel colony, at the request of Mali's government, has driven the Islamist rebels northwards out of towns into the desert and mountains.

Without a shot being fired, 1,000 French soldiers and paratroopers and 200 Malian troops seized Timbuktu airport and surrounded the town on the banks of the Niger River, looking to block the escape of insurgents.

In both Timbuktu and Gao, cheering crowds turned out to welcome the French and Malian troops.

A third town in Mali's vast desert north, Kidal, had remained in Islamist militant hands.

But Malian Tuareg's or Movement National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebels, who are seeking autonomy for their northern region, said on Monday they had taken charge in Kidal after Islamist fighters abandoned it.

A diplomat in Bamako confirmed the MNLA takeover of Kidal.

(Additional reporting by Reuters)

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