Mali conflict: Timbuktu hails French President Hollande By AFP | Saturday, February 2   2013 at  18:01

French President Francois Hollande (C) visits the Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu, the second step of his one-day visit in Mali, on February 2, 2013.  PHOTO | AFP

France's president has said it would be wrong to assume the conflict in Mali is over, three weeks after launching an offensive to oust Islamist rebels.

Mr Francois Hollande was speaking during a visit to the recently recaptured city of Timbuktu, where thousands welcomed him with chants of "Vive la France".

Ther leader said French forces would help Malian forces finish the job of re-establishing control in the north.

Meanwhile, the UN said Tuareg and Arabs in the north were at risk of reprisals.

The UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide said there had been serious allegations of human rights violations committed by the Malian army, including summary executions and disappearances.

There had also been reports of incidents of mob lynching and looting of properties belonging to Arab and Tuareg communities, which had been accused of supporting armed Islamist groups, Adama Dieng added.

The allegations came as heavily-armoured columns of French and Malian troops continued their advance in northern Mali.

They are attempting to secure the north-eastern city of Kidal, the militants' last stronghold, having captured the airport on Wednesday.

Still dangerous

Mr Hollande flew into the central town of Sevare on Saturday with his ministers of defence, foreign affairs and development. Mali's interim President, Dioncounda Traore, met them at the airport.

They then flew to Timbuktu's airport before being driven to the 700-year-old mud mosque of Djingareyber and the Ahmed Baba Institute, where fleeing militants set fire to about 2,000 priceless manuscripts.

Mr Hollande said French troops would stay in Mali for "as long as needed. Until the handover is completed".

Speaking beside the French president during the rapturous Timbuktu reception, Mali's interim President Diouncounda Traore said: "It shows how much France is determined to go all the way side by side with Mali. We ask France to continue with us."